Rajasthan's Eco-Feminist: Shyam Sunder Paliwal

Shyam Sunder Paliwal is a former sarpanch from the small Piplantri Village in Rajasthan. His daughter, Kiran, passed away at the mere age of 17 and he decided to plant a few trees in her memory. As he set out to do so, it occurred to him that this simple act could very well induce systematic change. Soon enough, Paliwal urged others to plant trees as a way to not only honour female children, especially in a state notorious for its skewed sex ratio, but to also take action towards environmental conservation. Owing to Paliwal, 111 trees are planted each time a girl is born in the village. Today, Piplantri is a lush oasis amid the desert. 

Despite any grandiose effort of lobbyists and NGOs, female foeticide remains a widespread issue across India. Paliwal shares the sentiment that women are just as sanctified as men, and they must be entitled to lead a fulfilling life. He also believes that societal change can only be brought about through productive examples. 

Under Paliwal’s initiative, which launched back in 2005, inhabitants of Piplantri have signed an affidavit against any practice of female foeticide or child marriage. In addition, families donate money towards a fixed deposit for their daughters’ education and they have agreed to get them married only after they reach the legal age.

The trees in Piplantri symbolise a tangible commitment to overcoming vital social and environmental issues. They have lowered water scarcity and pollution, and the village has forged access for basic needs, such as toilets, safe drinking water and electricity.

Sanchita Sivaraman