Kalyan Singh Rawat – The founder of Maiti Andolan

kalyan singh Maiti Andolan

In India, marriage is not only about starting a new life in a new place but also it is about leaving behind the only home she ever knew until now.  And the one’s who get perceive are the parents of the bride, they feel utterly dispirited when she leaves her home after marriage. But who would’ve even thought that one man in Uttarakhand – Mr. Kalyan Singh Rawat (An Environmentalist) would give parents the contentment back even though the daughter is gone with her husband.

In the Gwaldam & Bagoli village in Uttarakhand, when after marriage a newly-weds step outside from the house and make their way towards a clearing, The bride (daughter of house) plant a sapling outside the house. A group of young girls then rushes towards the groom who indulgently digs into his pockets and pulls out a thick wad of notes that he hands over to the eager unmarried females, And now this has become a tradition in the villages of Uttarakhand.

Due to all the emotions attached to that one tender sapling, the parents ensure it grows to be a young tree and symbolizes how the daughter too is happy and prosperous as the green tree growing in their backyard. It is also looked after by the Maiti Sisters (Unmarried females from the village) and are now treasured assets of the villages, with no one daring to chop them down.

maiti movement
Kalyan Singh Rawat with newly wed couple ready to plant Sapling in House Lawn.

Since 1995, the man behind this Maiti Movement of Uttarakhand – Mr. Kalyan Singh Rawat, a retired teacher is promoting forestation by this unique ideology !

In a special interview with Nav Uttarakhand – Kalyan Singh Rawat said: The word Maiti is derived from the Garhwali / Kumaoni word which means a married woman’s paternal home. the eldest unmarried woman is chosen from the village and under her supervision, saplings are planted from trees. During the marriage of a village girl, the sapling is then uprooted from that makeshift nursery and is planted by the bride and the groom in a permanent location. The sapling is then watered and tended to by other girls in the village. With the first hint of spring, it seems all the daughters who had left the village for their husband’s homes, are now healthy and happy.

“Trees are like gold for the mountain people, they give us shade in the summers and oxygen and water for our survival, This unique afforestation drive in the hills that centers around women has now become so popular that the event is even printed in wedding cards”, Said Kalyan Singh Rawat.

Explaining the idea behind this initiative he said: We feel that trees are like our daughters. So we raise and nurture them with the same love and attention. When our daughters grow up and get married, we ask them to plant a fruit tree sapling, normally orange, in the village. Besides helping maintain a green cover, it’s a wonderful way to remember and cherish our girls. He recalls that when he had initiated this tradition from a small town, Gwaldam in 1995, he had never imagined that it would become so popular in such a short span of time.

“Uttarakhand has always been known for its beauty and natural resources, but because of rampant development we have not been able to keep alive our natural cultural identity,” he observes.

 Maiti Andolan
Couple Planting a Fruit Sapling for Maiti Andolan

According to Singh, hill women are the strength and backbone of their family as well as the larger community and through the Maiti Andolan – essentially a women-centric movement – they are promoting environmental protection and catalyzing a social change.

“There is a reason for calling this revolution ‘Maiti’. Women are more active and energetic than men and are very emotionally connected to their parental home. “Besides, instinctively they are more concerned about future. So, by planting a sapling at the time of their marriage, they not only leave behind a precious memory, but play their part in safeguarding mother earth,” he points out.

The Maiti Andolan has generated a lot of public awareness and tree planting is now done not only during weddings but on other occasions as well.

For instance, to mark India’s 50th year of Independence, each village in Uttarakhand had planted 50 trees, reveals Singh, adding, “Then, in memory of the Kargil Martyrs, villagers, in collaboration with the Border Security Force, had planted 1,000 trees in the district that have become an impressive green forest known as Shaurya Van (Gallantry forest).”

The maiti concept has caught on so well that it has crossed borders and evolved into a revolution today, spread across 3,000 villages in the state is now also being adopted in states such as Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, too. Even in Uttarakhand, the Maiti Ceremony is also organised on several other auspicious occasions.

More recently, women associated with the movement gathered at Nauti village to plant 500 saplings to mark the commencement of the Nanda Devi Yatra, which takes place once in 12 years. “As per legend, Goddess Nanda Devi returns to visit her parental home every 12 years. This time a massive tree plantation drive had been organised at the beginning of the yatra. It’s just like when our girls plant trees after their marriage near their parental home,” elaborates Salochana Rawat, 38, another resident of Bagoli village.

Girls like Kamli, a 16-year-old from Nauti Village, have a new sense of self-value and purpose thanks to the Maiti Andolan. “Young girls in the villages are an integral part of this movement. We handle the Maiti Fund and take good care of the saplings planted by newly married couples,” says the teenager.

“We are called the Maiti sisters and one among us is appointed as the head of the girls’ group. Through our efforts, we are creating extensive awareness about the need to preserve our forests and protect our natural resources,” she adds. As the movement has expanded the villagers have incorporated another activity under it called Maiti Forest.

“On a particular day, villagers do mass plantation on an infertile piece of land. This is done under the guidance of the Pradhan (village head). Every few years, because of these endeavors, a wasteland gets converted into a lush forest,” says a proud Devaki.

mass plantation
Girls doing mass plantation on an infertile piece of land.

“Through this extraordinary revolution we are reclaiming our forests and reforming our social outlook. The number of saplings planted may not be huge, but the intent of planting them and subsequently tending to them has been an enormous success. “And all this has happened without any government support or external donations,” shares Kalyan Singh Rawat.

The message of ‘Maiti’ is plain: ‘For every happy occasion, plant a tree for a beautiful memory’.  

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