Credits: photo by Bhavya Dore
Piplantri. The name of the village already incorporated the English words plant and tree, even before becoming famous. Piplantri, Rajastan, in the northwestern Indian continent. And Shyam Sunder Paliwal. With that musicality flowing between the syllables of Indian names, and not just heroes’ names. Shyam Sunder Paliwal, 111 trees planted for each girl born in the village. Yet it’s not as simple as this eco-feminist adventure might suggest.
Eco-feminism in Rajastan
Three women are walking in the forest – it’s a video on the official website of the Piplantri project. They walk, swathed in the rich colors of their dresses and veils. They travel to every house where a little girl has been born, papers in hand, proffering an important contract. In India, the custom of aborting female fetuses upon discovery of the sex, or discriminating against girls born to parents who didn’t know their baby’s gender prior to birth (a law in fact prohibits this) is as widespread as pestilence. The consequences are that girls are often forced into unwanted or early marriages.
Shyam Sunder Paliwal’s idea
The contract that these women want signed – a contract that they read carefully to the families – stipulates that families raise their girls like their other children, that they do not marry them off before age 18, and that they deposit a sum in the bank toward their future. After signing, those who agree and can afford it (for others, their dire economic plight compounds an already difficult cultural situation), hold a special ceremony: 111 trees – a sacred number in Hinduism – are planted around the village. It is a green civil registry, as well as a checkbook, which spreads through the Piplantri valley.