The Naxal-infested Dharhara Kol region of Munger district in Bihar has found a saviour in Jaya Devi,Â a crusader for green cause both in her native Munger and the neighbouring district of Jamui.Â Belonging to an extremely backward community, andÂ having a formal education only till Class IV,Â hers is the vivid story of triumph of strong determination and will power over miseries and odds of life.
Jayaâ€™s effort to ensure a green earth through watershed projects and orchard development earned her Real Hero Award in its 5th Edition in Mumbai on 24th March 2012. Her success story follows when she got â€˜National Youth Award for Year 2008-09 in the field of Environment Protection & Rainwater Conservationâ€™ from the Ministry of Youth Affairs, Government of India. She also undertook a training programme in South Korea as also to share her experiences and initiatives for saving water as a natural resource and other green initiatives from 3rd October 2010 to 26th October 2010 for 25 days.
Dharhara Kol is predominantly inhabited by Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Castes. Dharhara Kol is a hilly, forested and difficult terrain largely without drinking water, irrigation and electricity. Though working with nuns of the Jamalpur-based Notre Dame Health Centre and undertaking various social development activities in the area, Jaya was largely ploughing a lonely furrow till 2001. It was like a tryst with destiny when she came across the Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University scholar Kishore Jaiswal in the autumn of 2001. Fondly called â€˜Kishore Daâ€™ by villagers, he is credited to have revolutionised agricultural scenario of the Ang region through agriculture diversification, horticulture and efforts for financial inclusion besides other soci0-development activities in the area. If villagers are to be believed, then Jaya has actually done wonders in the area and made a difference to the region, especiallyÂ through rainwater harvesting and watershed management initiatives.
Sponsored byÂ NABARD and several other stake-holders, facilitating agencies/NGOs, Jaya championed the cause of this region. With â€˜shram daanâ€™ of four days by members of all families, villagers of Saradhi, Kareili and Khopapar built their first watershed structure in Dharhara block. NABARD and district administration also chipped in. Presently, the block is home to six watershed projects with a collective potential to cater to over 5,000 hectares of land. It is important to note that Dharhara Kolâ€™s agricultural landscape has undergone a paradigm shift by laying emphasis on renovation and restoration aspects of traditional water harvesting structures as well as community ownership.
Naturally, Jayaâ€™s success story traveled from Munger to the adjoining districts. So much so that it caught the fancy of Jamui rural population who imbibed and begun to work on watershed management. Riding on the support wave of villagers and community leaders, Jaya Devi has undertaken various initiatives towards restoration and development of wastelands, plantations, promotion of tree and cattle-based agriculture, pollution control, limiting open grazing, farm bunding and saving trees.
A pioneer in the Self Help Group (SHG) movement in the region, Jaya by her sheer grit mobilized the local people to water conservation and tree plantation which in turn helped convert more than 5,000 hectares of barren land into fertile, cultivable terrain for various seasonal agriculture produce. As she exudes, â€œIn Dharhara Kol, over 12,000 fruit-bearing saplings and grass have been planted, which will enhance soil-and-moisture conservation in the region.â€
At a tender age of 10,Â JayaÂ had to abandon her schooling after Class IV due to threats from criminals.Â Left with no option, she was married offÂ to a daily-wage labourer in 1990 when she had just turned 12. With her husband not able to sustain the family, Jaya ventured into household dairy with just two cows. In 1998, she came in contact with nuns of Notre Dame Health Centre, Jamalpur and started social development activities in the area as a health worker. Her passion and zeal made her go from strength to strength in forming Self Help Groups (SHGs). With unwavering enthusiasm, she believes SHGs has helped her serve poorest of the poor, especially women from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, mainly by freeing them from the money lendersâ€™ clutches.
Some call her Green Lady, a born leader, Munger Massiah, some a self-less crusader, and others a social activist, a savior. Jaya has various names in the area. Isnâ€™t it a tribute to Jaya when eminent organizations like the Art of Living Foundation and Red Cross roped her in distributing alms among the poor, the downtrodden and the needy? Last month Art of living also announce to work for the total development ofÂ Jayaâ€™s village. Adding yet another feather to her tireless contributions, the Jamsetji Tata National Virtual Academy honoured her with a prestigious fellowship for â€˜her invaluable service to the cause of spreading knowledge revolution in rural Indiaâ€™.
Jaya was specially invited to address Youths on Water Conservation inÂ National Integration Camp at Etawah, Uttar Pradesh from 17th â€“ 22nd March 2012. This integration camp was organised by Nehru Yuva Kendra under Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, GoI. In this camp youths from eight states participated. Jaya remains a prominent figure in addressing the issues of water conservation youth workers, rural development and women empowerment etc. not only in Bihar but in other states too.
The fire in Jaya is such that has not deterred her from working even in the Naxal-hit area. Dwelling on her future plans, she says: â€œI envision to making my Ang region a pollution free zone and ensure that all stakeholders work in tandem to equip the area with all basic infrastructures such as schools, hospital, roads, electricity and above all sustainable livelihood opportunities for everyone.â€
- NRI Helpline
- Film Festival