Indian green warriors: Meet the environmentalists

Some made people wonder about the greatness of their deeds yet the simplicity of their actions.

By Reya Mehrotra

The Padma Awards 2021 saw several unsung heroes from humble backgrounds being recognised and honoured. Transgender artist Manjamma Jogati was awarded for her contribution to arts, UP’s Sharif Chacha was awarded for performing last rites of more than 25,000 unclaimed bodies. Some made people wonder about the greatness of their deeds yet the simplicity of their actions. Environmentalist Tulsi Gowda and social activist Harekala Hajabba, for instance, walked barefoot but carrying a lesson for millions. We bring you Indian environmentalists on the job of greening India.

Saalumarada Thimmakka

Karnataka’s Saalumarada Thimmakka is known for the planting and tending of 385 banyan trees along the Hulikal-Kudur highway. With no formal education and the job of casual labour in a quarry, she planted over 8,000 other trees. She was conferred with the Padma Shri in 2019. It is believed that she started planting banyan trees along with her husband in lieu of children, with their meagre savings. The asset value of the trees she planted has crossed a million rupees and is now being taken care of by the government of Karnataka.

Sunderlal Bahuguna

The leader of the Chipko Movement and environmentalist, Sunderlal Bahuguna is known for fighting for the preservation of forests in the Himalayas. From the 1980s to 2004, he also spearheaded the anti-Tehri Dam movement. One of the earliest environmentalists from India, the idea of his Chipko Movement was his wife’s. He took on several pressing environmental issues. The 1970s Chipko Movement that started in Uttarakhand had people hugging the trees so that they are not axed by contractors. Between 1981 and 1983, he took on a trans-Himalayan march, travelling to every village and seeking support for the movement. His meeting with the then PM Indira Gandhi led to a 15-year ban on tree felling in 1980.

Chandi Prasad Bhatt

The social activist is the founder of Gopeshwar’s Dasholi Gram Swarajya Sangh (DGSS) (1964). This organisation later became the parent organisation of Chipko Movement in which Bhatt was a pioneer. He was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 1982 and Padma Bhushan in 2005. Known as one of India’s first modern environmentalists, he is also known for his work on subaltern social ecology. He was the recipient of the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2013.

Himmat Ram Bhambhu

Nature activist, environmental activist and wildlife conservationist, Himmat Ram Bhambhu hails from Rajasthan. He was conferred the Padma Shri Award this year for raising a forest by planting 11,000 trees on a land near his village. Over five years, he has also planted five lakh trees. He has also worked actively to eliminate illegal smuggling of blackbucks, chinkaras, peacocks and poaching.

Tulsi Gowda

Hailing from Honnali village in Karnataka, the Padma Bhushan awardee was recognised for her contribution to the conservation of trees. She is actively involved with tree plantation and has planted over 30,000 trees. Despite no formal education, she has been actively involved with the forest department and also known as the ‘encyclopedia of the forest’ or the ‘tree goddess’ because of her extensive knowledge of plants. Known for seed collecting and the ability to recognise mother trees that have the most connected nodes in the forest, Gowda comes from the tribe of Halakki Vokkaliga, wherein the matriarchy is in charge of taking care of the land and deeply connected to nature. She has had an extensive tenure with the forest department and received the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award in 1999.

Kartikeya Sarabhai

Kartikeya Sarabhai was awarded the Padma Shri in 2012 to recognise his work in environmental education. Grandson of industrialist Ambalal Sarabhai and son of Dr Vikram Sarabhai, known as the father of the Indian space programme, Kartikeya is the founder and director of Ahmedabad-headquartered Centre for Environment Education. He has also served as a part of several committees set up by the ministry of environment and forests, among others, for the biodiversity education initiatives and the inclusion of ‘green’ studies in the Indian educational system. He has written and spoken extensively of education, sustainable development and environment.

Kinkri Devi

Indian activist and environmentalist from Himachal Pradesh, she is known for raising her voice against quarrying and illegal mining in her state. After a US-based charity organisation came forward to help her financially after her poverty and living conditions were revealed through a newspaper. With the support of a local volunteering group, she filed a public interest lawsuit in the state high court against 48 mine owners even though she never knew how to read or write. After her suit was rendered unresponsive, she went on a hunger strike and rose to fame when the court decided to take up the issue.

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