Sir, first of all, tell us something about your village Piplantri. Especially, in Rajasthan, people usually do not want a girl child. How was the situation there before, and what changes came after your work?
Yes! Hello, I am Shyam Sundar Paliwal. I’m a former Sarpanch of the Piplantri village in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan and currently my wife Smt. Anita is the Sarpanch of the village. As a Sarpanch, I took notice of the issues of Gram Panchayat. We are born and raised in the village, so we understand the problems of the villages better. Firstly, let me tell you the situation before 2005 when I became Sarpanch. In our childhood, the water level in our village was quite high. We used to drink water directly from the wells. Different crops like banana, papaya, mango, sugarcane, wheat, maize, etc. were cultivated in our village. People were quite satisfied. But then white marble was discovered in our village. Large scale mining started and people were given all kinds of promises such as money, jobs and better standard of living. Some people even got money and jobs. Trucks and other vehicles started to come to the mines, and gradually, pollution increased and people were spoiled by the money. The land area of the village started to deplete and outside laborers started cutting trees for the fuelwood. Large scale mining required water in tremendous amounts, so tubewells were dug to get water. Underground blasting led to pollution of soil and the marble quarry dissolved in the air, further polluting air, and people were having difficulty breathing. The water of that area started to deplete due to overuse. New diseases spread in the villages owing to the trucks that came to the village and an anarchical situation prevailed in that area. People from different states started to live in the area and started to quarrel with the local people. With all these situations in 2005, our area had a continued famine for 7 years and the situation worsened as we were facing losses due to mining and on the top of that famine occurred. Water from the railways used to come to our district which was then distributed in every village by the district administration through tankers. The tanker used to come to our village and other villages as well. At that time, we faced a catastrophic situation for water. Hundreds of people used to line up carrying pot earrings, buckets and other such vessels to get water. They quarreled among themselves. Then we understood the importance of water and greenery and we decided to act upon it. We decided to do something to store water in our village. So, when I became Sarpanch in 2005, firstly I constructed a good Panchayat Bhawan. Then all the people assembled there to talk on water conservation, plantations, our public lands, the grazing lands, etc. and we conveyed the decisions taken there through Gram Sabha and started to work for it.
Sir, how did the idea to connect daughters to water conservation and plantations come up?
Yes, I am coming to it. So, we started to make small check dams to hold water in the village. So, whenever rainfall occurs, the water will be collected in the village and will be discharged in the wells. In the summers of May-June 2006, my daughter Kiran died and we grieved for 12 days. So, whenever a death happens in any house in the village, the relatives and the villagers take the family out of their house and tell them to return to their normal life. So, I also went back to the Panchayat Bhawan and farm and with a heavy heart, I planted a tree in her name. It was an emotional moment for us. All of us were disheartened and then this thought occurred to me that why not plant trees for every girl born in this village.
So, we took this decision and started planting a tree in the name of every daughter along with our efforts for water conservation so that in the rainy season, the water was stored in the village. There is a saying that “Paani se Pehle padh bandh lo”. We planted trees and started plantations on government land. So, the daughters started getting respect, water conservation work started, and the government land which was the collective land of our village was protected.
We further observed that the financial condition of girls was not good either. They would also need money for their marriage in the future. People don’t want to give birth to a daughter because money will be spent on their education and on their marriage. They think that girls will go to another house. They are “paraya dhaan”. So, to take them out of this thinking, we collected money in the name of daughters and started making fixed deposits every time a daughter was born.
Sir, when we look at the images of the plantation that is done after the birth of a girl then there is a very lovely atmosphere because the mothers take their girls in a basket on their head. What is it and how did it begin?
We planted trees in the name of daughters and when they turned two-three years old, we started a festival of making them tie rakhi around trees planted by the parents on the daughter’s birthday. We started this tradition by tying a rakhi to the tree before the daughters tied the rakhi to their brother. The daughter ties the rakhi around the tree and gives the message that her parents planted this tree on her birthday and since they gave birth to her as well, this tree is her brother. So, a large number of girls come and tie rakhi around the tree. I started this program of connecting people with trees in memory of my daughter and today a very pleasant and inspirational atmosphere at Pipalantri has been created. We also started the work of giving nature-based employment to the people by saving daughters, water, trees, pasture land, and wildlife and that continues even today.
Sir in your village aloe vera plantation is being practiced and a small cottage industry is established there to employ women. Please throw some light on this.
We planted many trees in the name of daughters and on other days as well. Some of the trees we planted are Amla, Aloe Vera, Bamboo, and Mango. At this time, there are lakhs of Aloe Vera plants in our village. So, women are getting employment through Aloe Vera by creating gel, cream, shampoo, and face-wash, and Pipalantri’s products are entering the market. Then bamboo-based products such as bamboo sofas and many other types of bamboo furniture are also being manufactured. So, the plantation done in Pipalantri has resulted in the generation of employment for planting saplings and now that the saplings have become trees, the work of giving employment to women by training them by creating self-help groups has started. We are also making Amla Churna Triphala like Amla Raida Harde etc. We are also trying to employ by extracting oil from Amla waste. So, we are slowly working to move towards nature-based employment. So, there has been work in the cleanliness mission along with efforts for water harvesting. Furthermore, work was done in tree plantation, in saving daughters, and now a large number of people come to see this village. People from all over the country and abroad also come to take inspiration from this. So, it has become a tourism village and people are getting employment through it too. Sarpanch and officers from all over the country come to take training for the Panchayati Raj.
The Chief Minister has opened a training center here where HCNAN Bank officials are there. The work done here in Pipalantri should be depicted as a model to be implemented in the whole country by motivating people by showing the work of Pipalantri. So, the work that started with planting trees in the name of daughters and water conservation with the idea of making daughters self-reliant has resulted in giving employment in nature-based industry, saving wildlife, tourism, etc. All these things have become so much bigger than working in the name of the daughters. So, I believe that if our daughters were given the appearance of Lakshmi by our ancestors in our scriptures, a woman has been worshiped as Lakshmi, it is for this particular reason. If you respect the daughter and if you talk about honoring her, to make her self-reliant, then she will give you so much that your reserves will be filled and the same thing has been done in the memory of my daughter in my village. Today we have no shortage of either respect or money. Our village is being worshiped all over the world for saving daughters, saving water, saving trees. The idea that we adopted of planting trees in the name of daughters has taken our village a long way in terms of development.
What is the work done in your village relating to education? Not only school education, but is there any program to teach these things to the children concerning all the products that are made in the work of conservation or the self-help group?
The atmosphere is better now and this has fixed everything. People have started respecting daughters. Then of course whenever we plant trees in the name of daughters and generate fixed deposits in their name, we take an affidavit from them.
“That I will do the same thing in the maintenance of the trees that I am planting in the name of the daughter, and the upbringing of the daughter, I will not deprive the daughter of education; no one in my family will commit feticide (This is our first condition). I will not allow child marriage.”
Sir, are there schools in your village where children are studying?
My village has 9 schools. There are 9 wards in my village and there are 9 schools.
What is the situation now when the schools are closed, how are your children studying?
Children are studying in their own ways online. We have been overseeing their education by going door to door. Elder daughters are teaching younger children. This progress won’t stop once such an environment is created.
Due to the pandemic, what problems did you face in employment, etc.?
The whole country has been affected and we have also been affected. We have suffered and covid-19 has created the same atmosphere in the whole world. In the meantime, we are focusing on how we should be vigilant, thereby taking our family and village forward.
Finally, most of the people who will be reading this interview will be students, do you have any message for them?
We had made some rules based on which we got cooperation in carrying this work forward. First of all, why should I go for a pilgrimage, when I have a pilgrim in my village. Where I was born, where my father was born, many generations have been born, where my mother is cremated, my family’s other members’ last rites were performed, so my village is my pilgrimage place. Why lose an opportunity to make this place more beautiful? We should use government money properly to make this place beautiful. For that, we had decided that we will not bring anything to the house. We will spend 100 percent of the money given for the development of our village. We will do today’s work today and we will develop our village as if it is a pilgrimage. Due to this reason, the results of the great austerity that we have maintained in 15 years have started coming. Not only Rajasthan, but the government of the whole country wants it to be a model village and set it as a model for the people. Villages are not ideal, the villagers set examples to make an ideal village. The citizens of my village, the daughters of my village have set the ideal and due to this, my village is being recognized in the world.
You can talk about Pipalantri on YouTube, Google, Facebook etc. Even daughters who are officers of the IAS, the IPS or are studying engineering or other disciplines from educational institutions all over the country should come to our village as guests and stay with our daughters and work on how to take them further in the whole country. Teach something to us and learn something from us. This work can be done. It is austerity and maintaining this austerity brings such results. You will have to work with honesty. When you feel that the donations and government schemes have been properly used by our people then you will have no shortage of money and no shortage of schemes. With confidence, the responsibility of the people in the village is to carry out the government’s plan in the right form. All the work has been done by the people of my village. Today, along with my village, I also get respect and all this has happened in the memory of my daughter, so I keep absolute purity in this work.
The interview was originally taken in Hindi. You can request to view the original version on our official mail. Translated by Rashmi.