The Power of One: Jadav Payeng Creates a Forest
With all the stories about environmental loss and degradation, a glimmer of hope and inspiration grows in northern India. Jadav Payeng, a Mishing tribal man, has single-handedly created a 1,360-acre forest complete with tigers, rhinos, and elephants. His incredible story takes “the power of one” to a whole new level.
It starts in 1979 when floods washed a large number of snakes on to a sandbar near his home. By the time Payeng got there, the snakes were all dead. That was the turning point in his life.
“The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me. Nobody was interested,” Payeng told the Times of India.
For the next 15 years, Jadav lived in solitary confinement on the sandbar, intent on creating a forest from the sand. After a few years, the sandbar was transformed into a bamboo thicket. “I then decided to grow proper trees. I collected and planted them. I also transported red ants from my village, and was stung many times. Red ants change the soil’s properties. That was an experience,” Payeng said, laughing.
With the help of the red ants, bird droppings, and cow manure, the sandbar gradually changed into a forest that is now home to numerous species of flora and fauna, including the endangered one-horned rhino and Royal Bengal tiger. The fertile land also attracted people. Slowly the village at the edge of the forest, Aruna Chapori, swelled to its present size of over 200 families.
The state forest department only learned about Payeng’s forest in 2008 when a herd of 100 wild elephants strayed into it after a marauding spree in Aruna Chapori. It was then that assistant conservator of forests Gunin Saikia met Payeng for the first time.
“We were surprised to find such a dense forest on the sandbar. Locals, whose homes had been destroyed by the pachyderms, wanted to cut down the forest, but Payeng dared them to kill him instead. He treats the trees and animals like his own children,” said Saikia.
Trekking into the dense forest is a wondrous experience with Payeng. He points to “his” animals’ favorite or herbs. In the moist mud, he shows the footprint of an elephant and reaching a watering hole finds the fresh pugmarks of a tiger. Payeng talks like a trained conservationist. “Nature has made a food chain; why can’t we stick to it? Who would protect these animals if we, as superior beings, start hunting them?”
Payeng belongs to the Mishing tribe — a small tribe in the northeastern, biologically rich state of Assam — which has traditionally depended on forest resources. Perhaps it is this background that inspired him to create his marvelous forest. Or perhaps he just did it out of love.
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News Source: Times of India