The Earth is what we all have in common and Jadav has proved that he loves others besides himself by planting an entire forest single-handedly.
Jadav Payeng belongs to a marginalized tribal community, who live at Majuli in Assam. He is the son of a poor buffalo trader.
When Jadav was a little boy, a man looked at his palm to read it and said that his life will take the course of Nature. There may or may not be any truth in palm-reading, but he started working as a humble farmer from his teenage.
Majuli, the world’s largest river island is often flooded by the Brahmaputra during the monsoon. But in 1979, then 16 years old Jadav saw hundreds of snakes that were washed up during the flood. Lying dead on the sandbar in the heat as the water dried up. This happened because the island was being eroded at an accelerated pace.
Majuli shrunk over the past 70 years by more than half and there were concerns that it could be submerged within the next 20 years.
He wondered what it would look like if the same thing happened to humans. Jadav’s far-sightedness and worries were well-grounded.
He then shared his concerns with the tribal people in a nearby village and asked what he could do for saving mother nature. They suggested him to plant trees, bamboo in particular as it could withstand harsh conditions. They gave him 25 saplings and some seeds too.
He took those saplings and seeds and planted them along a dry sandbar by the Brahmaputra. He also stopped going to school because he was getting obsessed with his vision and thought of nothing else.
To fight the massive exploitation of the Majuli forest by humans, in 1980, the Assam Forestry Division of Golaghat district also began a plan to reforest 200 hectares of the forest. However, the program was sadly abandoned in 1983. After that, the forest was single-handedly attended by Jadav Payeng.
He began planting bamboo. Then, he continued planting other species. He wanted to spread his Molai Forest to Bongoan of Majuli.
Every day he planted a tree, creating a forest that stands at 550 hectares in the next thirty years.
He didn’t get married early because he was so busy saving our homes.
Locals called it ‘Mulai forest’. Mulai is Jadav’s nickname.
On the other hand, the government was completely unaware of the Mulai Forest. They only learned about Jadav’s forest in 2008 when a herd of around 100 wild elephants strayed into it.
After examining the forest closely, a herd of elephants, Bengal tigers, Indian rhinoceros, reptiles, deers, rabbits, monkeys, and several varieties of birds, including a large number of vultures were found in the forest. Several thousand trees cover the forests but Bamboo alone covers an area of over 300 hectares.
After planting trees for nearly 29 years, his efforts were appreciated worldwide. Several awards winning documentary Hollywood and Bollywood films were subjected to him and his forest. In his honor, the government also named the forest after Padma Shri Jadav “Molai” Payeng.
Today, he is known as the ‘Forest Man of India’, a moniker that was conferred on him in April 2012 by Jawaharlal Nehru University.
What Jadav did on that hot day, driven by something that tugged at his heart and scared him in equal measure, has won him global recognition today.
This Indian environmental activist and forestry worker believe that we all just have to begin with teaching our children to love nature and the rest will happen on its own.
Now, Jadav fears for his forest’s safety, but he knows it will survive. The trees he walks past every day talk to him and ask him to sit under their shade and rest a bit because he has done his job well, that we all are supposed to do.