Chami Devi Murmu is fondly called the ‘Lady Tarzan of Jharkhand’, not because she has befriended tigers in the Muturkham Chaura and Kadel Pahar jungles of Saraikela-Kharsawan district.
She is on a mission to protect the local wildlife by saving the forests that have been fast vanishing due to the havoc caused by the timber mafia and Naxal insurgency in the area.
A native of Barisai village in Jharkhand, it has taken Chami nearly 24 years to mobilise women from over 40 villages to plant sal, eucalyptus and Acacia trees, among others, to replenish the heavily depleted green cover. Chami’s eco-brigade of over 3,000 self-help group (SHG) women has planted more than a million trees and has also developed watersheds to help raise the ground water levels in the region. Through these initiatives, Chami Devi Murmu and her team have given hope to the locals and now, farmers of Jharkhand are able to plant paddy and arhar dal and enjoy good harvests all year around.
The wildlife in the region has also made a comeback to Jharkhand because of the revival of their habitat – the forests.
“Trees are our lives. They fulfil our very real needs for firewood and food and so I thought why not I become the saviour of our lifesavers,” said a confident Chami, adding, “Our network of women is so strong that we immediately come to know where a tree is being chopped. Our organisation, the Sahyogi Mahila group, a cluster of various SHGs, now plants trees and also protects them.”
The Santhal woman said, “Jharkhand means ‘the land of forests’ and in our local language it also means ‘a piece of gold’. For me, our forests are gold and we need to preserve them.”