How I Got Along With Former Dacoits To Save India’s Forests

Posted on March 27, 2016 in Havells, Hawa Badlegi

By Prabhat Misra:

Prabhat with village childrenSince childhood, I have always had a great love for nature. But it was only when I was transferred to district Etawah (Uttar Pradesh), and got a chance to see the ravine area of the National Chambal sanctuary and the Yamuna forest areas, I realised that deforestation, the depleting biodiversity and climate change threatened their very existence. I was convinced that sustaining natural ways to achieve the desired 350 ppm (parts per million) of CO2 level in the atmosphere was critical.

I, however, realised that there was very little awareness about such issues at the grassroots levels in Erawah, one of the main reasons being the problem of dacoits in the region. I wondered how we could create awareness among the village people and it struck me – by tying red tapes on tree trunks, I could generate awareness through this symbolic gesture; after all, red is a sign of danger and through this activity we could send a message that to cut trees is dangerous for life. So, on June 5, 2008, I started the Red Tape Movement in Etawah, a peaceful, non-violent movement to generate awareness about the importance of trees to our environment.

Our approach is quite simple. We choose a village, visit and tie red tapes on existing trees trunks. Our message is this – to cut trees is lethal for our present and future generations. We also make villagers aware of climate change and the importance of forest and biodiversity conservation. Initially, cooperation was low. But with continuous awareness campaigns, especially in villages, attitudes started changing. So far we have visited over 200 villages and have tied red tape to over on more than 10,000 trees trunks and planted over 2000 trees!

Raising awareness is a key agenda of this movement, and the biggest impact that we have had is that in villages like Chitbhawan, Aasayi, Dadaura and Bahadurpur, people have started only cutting the amount of wood they require for daily needs, and not whole trees, like they would before. During the recent Earth Hour on March 19, we even organised, along with the village assembly in Bilhaur, Kanpur, a candlelight vigil around the trees, in which the villagers have started taking great pride. In 2014, students of the Elgin High School in Chicago, conducted an ecological project in the vicinity of their school. As part of the project, they tied red forestry tape on trees throughout the school property to raise awareness about their ecological impact. They also advocated this activity to other schools.

Over time we have evolved into a true “Peoples Participation Movement”, and I am no longer the only one who plans activities. People across the country and world are also doing it. In December 2015, Founder of Chipko Movement, Magsaysay Award winner and Gandhi Peace Prize awardee Chandi Prasad Bhatt also tied Red Tape on an Ashoka tree, which he had planted himself.

Fomer dacoitsInterestingly, my journey, which started in a place where dacoits were a major concern has come full circle. In 2015, I met former bandit Seema Parihar, who was keen to join the movement. So, on March 21, this year, when an NGO the ‘Sri Kalptaru Society’ organised an environmental awareness event in Jaipur, Seema Parihar, herself organised the red tape activity, which attended by former dacoits and bandits Renu Yadav, Malkhan Singh, Preetam Singh “Gabbar Singh”, Pancham Singh, Pehalwan Singh, Mansingh and Ram Singh Chauhan!

Personally, this movement has been a really positive, energetic experience for me. Since we started, international organisations and initiatives like IUCN, Earth Hour, Ashoka India and Greenpeace India have followed our work on Twitter. “Red Tape Movement is helping trees deliver a message on their environmental importance,” IUCN tweeted to us. Appreciation like this not only encourages me, but all those who have decided to make a change by participating in this movement in their own way – it could be by conducting seminars and events in educational campuses, neighbourhoods or workplaces, and following it up with a red tape activity. After all, we are the guardians of the trees in our own neighbourhoods. So, why not tie a red tape within your school, college or colony, today, and spread awareness about why we need to protect trees in our own vicinity?