A village situated in the interior of an arid and hilly Rajasthan district has over the years set up an example of promoting both gender equality and a sustainable and environment-friendly way of life.
On first glance, Piplantri, a village situated in the Rajsamand district of Rajasthan, would appear just as another hamlet in the region, which is also a hub for stone mining. Everyday, hundreds of trucks ferry mined stones from the Aravalli Mountain range to different parts of the country. The population of Piplantri amounts to around 600 people and the village is situated over an area of 229 hectares. Many villagers go in search of work in nearby cities such as Udaipur to earn their livelihood, while some also work as labourers in nearby farms.
The hilly and hot topography of the area not only makes it difficult to provide access of water resources to the locals but also makes the area drought prone. The dumping of mining waste is another challenge which residents face when it comes to degradation of the environment.
But the village of Piplantri is an exception in a region plagued by the arid climate, courtesy the resolve and vision of its villagers, who have ensured that planting trees and conserving water doesn’t remain confined to be occasional activities but instead become a regular practice.
Planting 111 Trees for each Girl Child
Traditionally, due to the feudal and conservative nature of its society, the social evil of female infanticide was prevalent in Rajasthan. While the situation has improved in the past few decades, but even according to the 2011 census figures, the sex ratio of Rajasthan is 928 females for each 1,000 male, which is still below the national average of 940 females.
The people of Piplantri realised by the turn of the millennium that along with saving environment from the adverse effects of mining, it was necessary to spread awareness about gender equality and change the mindset that a girl is a liability for a family.
People such as Shyam Sundar Paliwal, former Sarpanch of Piplantri came up with an ingenious idea to instil a sense of awareness and gender equality in the mind of the locals, so that they understand that the birth of a daughter is an occasion to celebrate instead of grieving.
Piplantri made it mandatory for its residents to plant 111 saplings on the birth of each girl in the village. For former Sarpanch Paliwal, a personal memory was also associated with the initiative, which was started in memory of his daughter.
When she was in her teenage, Kiran, the daughter of Paliwal, had passed away due to dehydration. The immense grief that Paliwal felt on her passing away also gave him the resolve to take the pledge that he would make water scarcity in Piplantri a thing of history.
One of the main challenges that Piplantri faced was its barren and rocky landscape, which in absence of greenery, made the environment inhospitable. By making it compulsory for locals to plant 111 trees on the birth of each girl, Paliwal and his fellow villagers ensured that the village would get a green cover in years to come.
The tradition of planting trees at the birth of a girl child has continued till date with spectacular results. While the village had become a dumping ground for mining waste before the 2000s, it is now protected with a lush green cover of trees that every visitor starts noticing right from entering Piplantri.
Jal Grahan Committee
As the initiative of planting trees became successful, Paliwal decided to find a solution to the problem of water scarcity. The people of Piplantri came together to form the Jal Grahan Committee, which chalked out a detailed plan for putting in place a system of rain water harvesting in the village.
What was the way forward to conserve water in an area that is surrounded by hills?
The solution to this challenge was the construction of check dams over the large swathes of pasturelands over the mountains. The check dams helped recharge groundwater by harvesting rain water during the monsoon, which could then be used by villagers for day-to-day activities.