Orissa’s green woman fights environmental blues – from thatched hut

By Hemant Kumar Rout,

Bhubaneswar, Other people begin the day with a walk or a prayer to the gods, but not Orissa’s doughty Urmila Behera who starts off each morning by planting at least 10 trees in and around her village.

Support TwoCircles

The 48-year-old woman from Kothapada village in Balasore district has been doing so for the last 15 years – planting more than 100,000 trees in at least 60 villages without taking any financial assistance from the government or anyone else.

Operating from her thatched hut, Behera is not a rich philanthropist with time and money to spare, nor is she an academic debating the nuances of global warming in seminar rooms across the world. She is simply a woman deeply committed to the environment.

Fondly called ‘Gachha Maa’ (tree mother) in the area, Behera has even sold her agricultural land for the purpose.

Her mission plantation has seen her planting trees on riverbanks, in campuses of various educational institutions and myriad other places.

Behera, who has transformed the area with all kinds of trees – neem, coconut, palm, mango, jamun, sal, teak, date palm, peepal and banyan — doesn’t stop with just planting the tree. She also takes care of them till they attain a standard height.

“I started my mission in 1992. I have never looked back since. Earlier I was focussing on my own courtyard and the roadsides of my village. Now I have expanded my vistas,” Behera told IANS.

“I have no son. I love the trees as my sons. In fact, I had started on this work only to overcome the sorrows of not having a son. But it later became a routine. Every morning, I plant at least 10 trees – on special occasions it touches hundreds,” said the mother of two proudly.

Her social work is deeply personal.

Behera actually observes the birthday of a tree by cutting a symbolic cake. Her morning routine begins by putting kajal and turmeric on a tree and showering it with water.

Her husband and daughters are with her.

“A man with blood and flesh may turn anti-social, but not the trees. I feel those who don’t do anything for the society are not human beings. We will continue the mission till our death,” said her husband Pitambar Das, 62.

The couple’s daughters and other girls in the village tie rakhis to trees every year.

Inspired by the Beheras’ passion, president of the village development committee Ashok Behera said: “We have decided to join hands with the mission and help her in any way we can.”

Behera has a dedicated team of supporters in her mammoth task.

One of those is Dinabandhu Mohapatra of a neighbouring village who has spent a life term in jail and is described by Behera as a “transformed man”.

Mohapatra said the acceptance of their work hasn’t come easily.

“One day, for instance, villagers didn’t allow us to plant trees on the roadside. But we did the work in the night when everybody was sleeping. Nobody harmed the trees in the morning,” he recalled.

Combating the environmental blues, the woman with the green fingers has many lessons to teach from her corner of the world. We just need to learn.