Redrawing jungle laws: Jharkhand woman dedicates life to protect trees from 'timber mafia'

Jamuna had her task cut out: she gathers women like her in her Maturkham village, to 'patrol' the forests and raise alarm if trees were chopped on the sly.
Jamuna Tudu has been felicitated for her exemplary work several times. (Photo | Express)
Jamuna Tudu has been felicitated for her exemplary work several times. (Photo | Express)

JHARKHAND: Shortly after her marriage in 1998 to a contractor in Jharkhand’s forest-rich Jamshedpur, Jamuna Tudu realised the futility of going miles to fetch dry leaves and firewood.

Memories of her parents planting saplings in their own land in Rairangpur in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district would often travel back in her vacuous despair at the depleting forest cover. 

Jamuna had her task cut out: she would gather women like her in her Maturkham village, under Chakulia block of Jamshedpur, and protect the trees. Only four women stepped forward who along with her would “patrol” the forest and raise alarm if trees were chopped on the sly. More village women joined her, prompting her to form ‘Mahila Van Rakshan Samiti.’

Its members would carry bows and arrows and sticks across the 50-hectare forest cover around the village to protect it from the vicious timber mafia. 

That was the beginning of a long and dangerous journey of the 37-year-old Jamuna, now known by her moniker ‘Lady Tarzan’. 

She has now more than 300 such groups, with around 25-30 people in each group working in the area to save forestland from the mafia. They work in three shifts – morning, afternoon and evening – and still carry the same tribal weapons along with pet dogs to ward off the plunderers.

“I’ve been threatened and attacked several times,” recalls Jamuna. The most dangerous attack was made on the couple in 2011 at Kopra near Ghatshila when she was trying to convince people against cutting trees. In 2008, her house was ransacked at the behest of the timber mafia. For her, trees are brothers; she and other villagers tie ‘rakhi’ on them every year on Raksha Bandhan. “Our village volunteers take a pledge that they will not allow wanton chopping of trees,” says Jamuna.

They also plant new saplings, encouraging men to join the campaign, which has yet another first: 18 saplings of ‘sal’ trees are planted on the birth of a girl child and 10 sal trees are given to the bride’s in-laws as a tradition in Jamuna Tudu’s village. She still revisits those fond moments when her parents would plant saplings in their land in the absence of much natural vegetation in the region.

“Her outreach among the people is commendable and has contributed a lot in increasing the forest cover,” says Regional Chief Conservator of Forests (Chaibasa) Vishwanath Shah. Awards and honours have come her way: she was given the President’s Award in 2016, and in 2019, she was selected for ‘Padma Shri.’ She was also awarded with the “first 100 women” by the President and felicitated at Rashtrapati Bhawan in 2017. The NITI Aayog has recognised Jamuna as one of the 12 women who are transforming India. 

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The New Indian Express