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The Green Commando of Bastar

Bastar, Thu, 05 May 2011 ANI

Bastar, May 5 (ANI): Bastar in south Chhattisgarh is increasingly being associated with bloody violence and strife, a political conflict that throws up disturbing questions about policy priorities that this tribal region has received in the decades following India's Independence.


Indeed as it is being increasingly acknowledged, it has been the singular lack of development that has led to birth of political groups that question the framework of parliamentary democracy in this country.


Somewhere lost in this high-intensity conflict and debate around it, is the question of Bastar's own identity. What is the area like, how do the people live and what in a sense defines it, in terms of its terrain, its natural resources, and its cultural and social patterns?


What strikes one are the luxuriant forests that stretch for miles and miles from any one point. The adivasis who have inhabited the region for centuries have evolved a way of life, a culture that worships nature, preserves it for the present generation of course, but really speaking for posterity.


Perhaps it is this philosophy embedded in the region for centuries that has led Virender Singh to take on the mantle of environment protection in the region. Even as a child growing up in Durg district in a family of agricultural workers, he would revel in the bounty of nature; the joy of seeing new leaves, crops waiting to be harvested and water gushing in the streams.


As he grew, he realised that this bounty is the basis for human civilization and indeed its continuance. Yet it is finite, and if we do not nurture it, it may disappear altogether. In later years, as a schoolteacher, he saw the immense potential of opening young minds to both the joy and the threat to Nature. From this realization, began his journey and over the last 13 years earned him the pseudonym of " Green Commando".


So what was the trigger that set off this incredible journey, now a mission of his life? Says Virender with a sparkle in his eyes " Chhattisgarh is a rice-producing state and the paddy crop from which it is derived is dependent heavily on water sources."


Beginning in 1997, he could see the diminishing of traditional water sources, the wells, ponds, and small streams. All of this depended on rainfall and yet much of the water would run off. What if this could be stored and saved? This really was the germ of an idea of 'Water Harvesting' in his mind. And he began a campaign to save the traditional water sources.


Also pollutants from Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP) in Durg district were affecting the area around Tandula Dam, which many communities were dependent on for their water sources. Not to mention the birds and animals in the area. He took up the issue with the block and district authorities, Nagar Palikas and the Jal Board but the response was tepid, typical of authority sadly.


Yet this is what sparked the idea of involving school children. Under his guidance, groups of students from local schools across Kanker district and now increasingly colleges move from house to house to talk about environmental protection, the need to save trees, save water, keep the surroundings clean of filth and garbage.


Co-opting the school system into this campaign showed that Virender is as much of a strategist as a spontaneous environmental activist. School principals are only too glad to give their children this kind of exposure to a relevant issue.


Asked how he keeps himself abreast of what is happening in the environmental field and new ideas to translate that into activities, Virender smiles knowingly " I don't need to read books about the environment to understand it. I know it instinctively, what is going wrong, what needs to be highlighted and how to make it exciting for the children and youth". or Virender's campaign, which involves both boys and girls, it is girls who really lead the way, enthused about the message as much as the activities that it entails. And there is plenty to get involved in. Nukkad Nataks, Poster Making, Exhibitions, Issue-based Marches, Field Visits, Tree-Planting drives and of course doing door to door campaigns, One of the significant campaigns this team undertook to protect the standing wheat crop from 'gajar ghaans' (literally carrot grass) which caused a strange flowering of the crop well before the harvest.


Most of the activities involving school children are done in and around the vicinity and all in a day trip. It is mostly walking and observing, eating what they all carry from home.


For material like posters, paints and brushes, Virender contributes this from his salary. But local people chip in with food and other items and in that sense; it has become a community initiative Virender is glad that he has found a job as a Communication Officer in a private company, Godavari River Ispat Ltd which pays him a princely sum of Rs.5000/ and allows him that luxury.


In his earlier job as a schoolteacher, he used to earn Rs.500/- and yet somehow manage to do something constructive for his pet project! He is also blessed with family and friends who are supportive. A mother who is proud of her son doing such fine work, artist friends like Ankush Dewangan, Vidyarthi who lend their talent to the shows and exhibitions in the area.


Virender however stays close to his original cause of water conservation. "Water is the key, the most precious resource for the earth", he believes. And to promote the idea, he evolved the concept of 'Tilak Holi'.


This revolved around playing Holi, a joyous festival of colours in Chhattisgarh as in many parts of the country not by splashing water on each other but applying a 'tilak' on each other thus sending out a powerful message of water conservation.


Virender Singh was chosen from amongst 146 nominations in the country for the " Dainik Jal Star Award" on April 13, this year. However much like pop icons and film stars who have crossed the line from mediocrity to excellence it is not Awards, which drive Virender.


The Charkha Communication Development Network feels that a greener Bastar, a cleaner environment in Chhattisgarh and above all, a bunch of young people raring to go and take the message far and wide, are the real achievements of this one change-maker, a lasting legacy to be sure. By Sujata Raghavan(ANI)


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