This is the women’s era in India. Dr Shantishri Pandit has become the first woman V C of J N U, New Delhi, while Lt. Gen. Madhuri Kanitkar adorns MHU, Nashik as its first woman V C. Similarly one of the earliest women eco warriors was Gaura Devi of Uttarakhand Khand. Born in 1925, Gaura Devi hailed from the Marchcha family of the Lata village in Chamoli Dist.
Her family was traditionally engaged in the wool trade and she shifted to a nearby village named Renu after her marriage. Unfortunately her husband passed away by the time their son was about two years old, leaving the 22 year old mother to single handedly take on the domestic responsibilities as well as the family’s wool trade .
Gaura Devi’s experience had made her conscious about the struggles of women, which made her active in the Panchayat & other community initiatives. Because of her engagement in the community and advocacy of forest protection, the women of Reni began to look up to her in the wake of the Chipko Movement. They decided to approach her to head the Mahila Mangal Dal. Even though Gaura was in her late forties, she accepted their offer.
By this time the Chipko Movement had already begun to create widespread awareness and inspired Gaura Devi to take up the work of safeguarding the nearby forests . That is why in 1974 , when theState Govt authorised the felling of 2,500 trees in the hill, and roped in the contractors for the job, the villagers were quick to retaliate. The women were led by Gaura Devi . They hugged the trees. So the loggers were unable to cut the trees . Thus Gaura Devi was responsible for saving 2,500 trees .
She became known as Jhansi ki Rani of Eco – Movement. The famous historian Ajay Singh Rawat says that Gaura Devi’s indomitable spirit empowered the hill women to fight for their rights. He adds that it was due to her efforts that women workers in the wool trade were paid Wages equal to those of male workers. Dr Vandana Shiva , the great environmentalist, has lauded the work of Gaura. She says that three generations of eco workers have been inspired by Gaura Devi. She passed away in1991 at the age of 66.
“My friend late Prof. Devdatt Tungar had paid rich tributes to Gaura Devi for her laudable contribution to the environmental movement. He had said that she deserved to be honoured with at least a Padma Shri award. “ – Govind Tekale
Gaura Devi symbolises the need for ethical environmental preservation, women’s self confidence and rights in the dialogue and the indigenous people’s determination to protect their eco-system.
“Let us observe 4 July, her death anniversary as an eco-warrior commemoration day and resolve to work for an eco- friendly lifestyle “ – Ajay Singh Rawat
Ajay quotes from Kumara – Sambhav of Kalidasa : Ayam Purah Pashyasi Devadarum, Putrikritosau Vrushabhadhvajen – meaning that a Devadaru (a pine tree) was regarded as a son by Mahadev. It is believed that one of the pine trees saved by Gaura Devi was a direct descendant of that Lord Shiva’s Devadaru (which literally means a divine tree). That is why the people of Uttarakhand remember Gaura Devi with great respect.