JHARKHAND: Bandhan Oraon retired from the Indian Army in 2006. Since then, he has set a task for himself; a mission to protect the 200-acre jungle close to his village Pikhli, about 24 km from the district headquarters in Gumla, from illegal deforestation and prevent the villagers living near it from felling trees.
His forest is much greener as it awaits wild inhabitants. Childless, Oraon has been looking after the forest as his own children. “I don’t have children, so I decided to look after this forest as my own child. When I look at the growing green, it feels as if my own children are growing up.”
Post-retirement when he returned to his village, things were not as good. “I found the forest on the verge of extinction as the trees were being mercilessly cut by villagers for their daily needs. That’s why I decided to protect it,” he says. He called a meeting of the Gram Sabha and offered to protect the forest for the sake of villagers.
The Gram Sabha readily accepted his offer following which he started guarding the forest regularly. Gram Pradhan of Pilkhi village Bhupendra Badaik says Oraon’s dedication has brought drastic changes and the entire jungle has got a new lease of life, enabling flora and fauna to grow in the region.
Oraon maintains a daily routine: he walks to the jungle everyday with his umbrella, khukhri slingshot, a water bottle and a bag and returns after the sunset, said Badaik. “For some years he did it for free. Later, looking at his dedication, we decided to give him 6 kg of paddy per household every year as remuneration,” said the Gram Pradhan. Locals say nobody dares to enter the forest without informing Oraon. Even village women avoid collecting sal leaves for household use from the forest.
Siko Devi, from the same village, says that deforestation had completely stopped after Oraon took charge of the jungle. “He allows only those who have a genuine requirement such as for conducting rituals or construction of a thatched roof,” said Siko.
Another villager, Birasmuni Devi said that if anybody is caught cutting trees or plucking Sal leaves without permission from the Gram Sabha, he is penalised. “Sometimes, Oraon even goes running into the jungle even during the night if any suspicious sound is heard from there. Initially, they considered him cynical, but gradually they understood his intentions, and now respect him for his mission,” observes Birsamuni.