Jaipur: It's a story of Piplantri, a small village in the Rajsamand district of Rajasthan, and Shyam Sundar Paliwal, a father grief-stricken by her daughter's demise, and the human endeavour to turn a barren land into green splashed with smiling faces of girls and prosperity all around within a short span of 13 years by the sheer grit of self-confidence and faith.
With each villagers planting 111 saplings on the birth of a daughter, Piplantri, once considered a barren land, is now blessed with around 3.5 lakh trees. Even the water level, once around 500 feet deep, has improved phenomenally. The curse of drought has been exorcised by the dense green shades, he told IANS.
When asked about his inspiration, he said: "August 21, 2006 was the saddest day of my life, when my daughter Kiran, 16, returned from school with a stomach pain. Despite been taken to hospital, she could not be saved. It was a terrible loss. But I decided my daughter shall stay with me forever. I also decided that each person in the village shall feel pride to be a parent of a daughter.
At that point, I launched the Kiran Nidhi Yojana on my daughter's name. On the objectives of the scheme, he said, "Around 62-65 girls are born in our village each year. My aim is to prevent female foeticide, provide quality education and protect them from the curse of child marriage."
With those goals in mind, I started contacting and convincing people to make in the name of these girls fix deposits, which could only be withdrawn on their achieving adulthood. "I also started persuading parents to make the pledge that they will never give or take dowry and made them sign affidavit to this effect. And then the idea to plant 111 saplings came up," he said.
Today the 111-sapling-planting-ritual on the birth of a daughter is followed with religious zeal. Also, certain amount is collected from the people, including parents, to be kept in a fixed deposit, to be withdrawn on the girl becoming an adult.
Parents of a girl child take the pledge of providing complete formal education to her and not to marry her before she attains the legal age. The practice has dramatically changed the village's socio-economic and demographic condition.
The Kiran Nidhi Yojana was just the beginning and today, villagers have all the modern facilities, like eco-friendly gas stoves; toilets, and solar light. The dedication of this Class 10th pass man also brought anganwadi centres, health centres, air-conditioned panchayat bhavan and modern schools to the village.
"I am quite educated," he says with pride. "I passed Class 10 examination last year. Earlier I was just Class 8 pass. But what I have learnt is that I am far educated than people who don't know how to respect a beti (daughter), naari (woman), ped (tree) and van (forest). In fact, I took the Class 10 examination just to send across the message -- age is just the number.
His vision is bearing fruits in the field of water conservation too with delegates from across the world coming here to learn new techniques and drought and famine becoming a thing of past.
To save the saplings from termite, villagers have planted over two millions Aloe Vera plants, which is generating livelihood for many Piplantri families through marketing of its gel, pickle and juice.
As happens with any positive thought and vision, not only lakhs of trees are standing as a mark of respect to Kiran, but the village has also become crime- and dispute-free with each resident his own share of employment.
'Gramudhyog Piplantria' is now a global term whose foundation has been cemented by women of the village. Paliwal ensures that women go out and work to get empowered and stand on their own with pride.
The growth seed planted by this humble man has converted the barren land into a fertile one, with the organic farming further changing the landscape. Over the years, Pipalantri has become a brand with organic products branded under it selling across the world.
Appreciation and recognition have started falling like stardust. While Bollywood mega-star Amitabh Bachchan invited him to take part in the latest edition of KBC -- the introductory shoot in the village has been complete -- Akshay Kumar requested him to visit Mumbai saying the practice of planting sapling on a daughter's birth should be spread.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi feted him twice in Delhi and Jaipur, respectively. Former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam feted him in 2007. "We started cleanliness drive in our village in 2005 and in 2006, our village was declared open defection free.
"With the active participation of villagers, we now have the green canopy amid which chimes the laughter of daughters and happiness of villagers," he says with the glow of pride playing on his face.