Dying while protecting a tree!



I remember meeting a bunch of bold women activists in Harsil, Uttrakhand a few years back. They were crusading to protect trees and stop sale/manufacture of illicit liquor in the picturesque village right on the banks of Bhagirathi.

Just to highlight its splendour, the deodar slopes surrounding the village had beckoned film star Raj Kapoor all the way from Mumbai here to shoot his blockbuster film Ram Teri Ganga Maili in 1980’s. It was also a favourite spot of late prime minister Indira Gandhi.

Harsil falls on way to pilgrimage Gangotri, but few people stop to enjoy the place, which according to Wikipedia had become the hideout of one Frederick E. Wilson, an adventurer who had deserted the British Army after the 1857 mutiny. Why I mentioned Wilson is for the fact that he minted money by ruthlessly cutting deodar trees, floating them down the river to the plains, when the British were building the railways.

I came to know about Harsil from senior Congress leader and former UP governor Moti Lal Vora, who had also mentioned the beautiful wooden cottage called Wilson. However, when I went there I only found its ruins- it burnt down twice.

If the women I met in Harsil had existed when Wilson was cutting away fully grown Deodar trees, there is no doubt that he would have been behind bars for life or chased away from India that gave him a hideout. These women had shared their awesome stories of how they – a handful of them- had scared away timber mafia, using all tricks in their armour in the early 1990’s. Their bravery deserved a national award but ‘ Delhi door hain na’ and the rulers of today don’t venture out of their secured zones to find them.

What reminded me about them was the brutal murder of 60-year-old Bala Devi, a social health activist in Ghazipur area of Uttar Pradesh. Her crime – she was trying to protect Mahua trees. As she tried to stop the threesome from felling the trees, one of them used the same axe that he had brought to kill the trees and murdered her on the spot. Her son later told the police that his mother often received threaten calls as she had been crusading to protect the trees in her area.

The killer has been arrested and should be sent to jail forever for committing two crimes—one murder and another attempt to murder. Didn’t we learn in school that even trees are living things.

As for Bala Devi, one wonders if she can be posthumously conferred with an award! Undoubtedly a brave woman.

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