Padma Shri awardee Jamuna Tudu is an environmental activist who is popularly known as Lady Tarzan for taking the timber mafia head-on in Jharkhand and saving a pristine forest belt from exploitation.
Popularly known as Lady Tarzan, Jamuna Tudu is an Indian environmental activist, known for her headstrong initiatives for environment conservation. Tudu grew up seeing her family plant saplings in their land in the absence of natural vegetation in the region. She spent a major part of her life working for forest protection, fighting against the timber mafia. She was awarded the President’s Award in 2016, and in 2019, she received Padma Shri. The NITI Aayog recognised Jamuna as one of the 12 women who are transforming India for her commendable work.
Early Life of Jamuna Tudu
Born in the remote village of Odisha, Tudu moved to Jharkhand after her marriage in 1998. Her house was located 100 km away, in Maturkham. On the day following her marriage, the ladies of the house showed her around. When she came across the forest area, she was shocked to see the dull trees devoid of vegetation. She discovered how the local forest mafia cut down the lush forests of the village for their selfish means. The unpleasant sight of the ravaged forest got her thinking, and she decided to save it from the mafia. At all costs. She couldn’t stand seeing losing the pristine forest belt around her.
Tudu stepped outside to gather the women of the village and protect the forests. She recalls, “It was difficult to unite the women and ask them to fight for forest conservation. They were fearful of the mafia.” However, Tudu was going to lead with an unabashed passion. The will of steel found five women joining her, and together, they formed the Van Suraksha Samiti. The women used to patrol the jungle area and keep an eye on the illegal activities of the mafia. The members would go around the forests with sticks, spades, bows and arrows to scare away the intruders. Moreover, they would confiscate the loggers’ abandoned saws and hide them in the village. However, the realisation of the nasty partnership between police officials and the mafia left them disturbed. Nonetheless, more women mustered the courage to come forward and joined Jamuna in her noble mission.
Tackling the deadly mafia to save the Forests
Until 2004, Tudu and her team of passionate activists worked hard to protect the forests of Maturkham. But then she realised the need to go beyond her village and help to save the forests of nearby villages. So, she went outside of her village and explored the areas in dire need of attention. “I would walk up to the Pradhans of the villages and speak to them about protecting forests. While some of them responded favourably, I had to put in extra efforts to convince others,” adds Tudu. She went on to form over 50 Van Suraksha Samitis in Chakulia town. And today, the band of 10,000 women across 300 villages have been walking around with a strong voice to stop people from indiscriminately cutting down the forests. They work in three shifts – morning, afternoon and evening – to keep the naysayers at bay.
Perseverance at best
The success didn’t come easily for Jamuna and her Van Suraksha Samiti. They had to cross paths with violence and frequent fights among the villagers. One particular incident left a deep mark on her. She shares, “Once I went to the railway station with my husband to prevent the mafia from transporting the forest wood. We were met with sharp stones and my husband was lying in a pool of blood.” “Some divine intervention saved us that day or else we would not have been alive,” continues Jamuna. Despite such terrible instances, Tudu did not bow down and continues to lead the pack of women with strength and ferocity. They have also initiated ceremonies such as Raksha Bandhan and Bhai Dooj to create a close bond between the locals and the trees.
Jamuna comes from an ordinary Indian family who fought against the prevailing conditions to become the valiant Lady Tarzan everyone admires. The green crusader is elated to receive several prestigious awards that motivate her to work better in the right direction. “As long as we live, we would dedicate ourselves to protecting forests and planting new saplings,” shares Tudu, on behalf of her team.
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