On the eve of the 75th Republic Day, the Indian government announced the list of winners of the Padma Awards 2024, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor.
The Padma Awards conferred by the Government of India recognize the unique and exceptional contributions of various individuals from different fields. These awards are given in three categories:
- Padma Vibhushan is given for exceptional and distinguished service
- Padma Bhushan, which rewards distinguished service of higher order
- Padma Shri, which recognizes distinguished service
This year’s Padma Shri awards include two individuals recognized for their outstanding efforts in the field of environment, Chami Murmu and Dukhu Majhi.
Chami Murmu is an environmental activist from Saraikela Kharsawan district of Jharkhand, one of the most backward districts in the state.
Fifty-two-year-old Chami mobilized hundreds of women in her area to plant trees in more than 500 villages. She started planting trees when she was 16 years old and looking for job opportunities around her village. The need to find a means of livelihood came early in her life, as she lost her father and elder brother at an early age.
Chami saw an opportunity to use the barren land in the region to start social forestry. She formed a network of about a dozen women from her village and set up her organization — ‘Sahayogi Mahila.’ Despite the unwillingness of the male members of the village and even facing constant hurdles, she persisted in her efforts.
Over the years, she has planted trees like Eucalyptus, Sal, Acacia, Neem, and Sheesham trees, supporting greenery and providing livelihood to the local population. She has also been working to build watersheds for irrigation purposes and helping women to start their businesses.
In 2000, she was recognized for her efforts and was awarded ‘Indira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra Puraskar.’ In 2019, she received the Nari Shakti Award from the Women and Child Development Ministry.
Dukhu Majhi is an environmental activist from Sindri village in West Bengal’s Purulia district.
Seventy-eight-year-old Dukhu Majhi has been planting saplings since childhood, following in his father’s footsteps. Dukhu plants trees at rural markets, bus stands, roadsides, crematoriums, temple areas, school premises, and health centers, providing shade and shelter to any passerby. In addition, he also plants fruit trees like mangoes and blackberries to feed birds, animals, or travelers.
Dukhu Majhi, affectionately known as ‘Gachh Dadu,’ travels on his bicycle to new locations and vacant spaces to plant and protect the trees. Despite his financial constraints and modest living, Majhi has not stopped his relentless pursuit.
What makes Dukhu Majhi’s efforts unique is his innovative technique of protecting the saplings he plants. He would put up fences made of burnt wooden logs or discarded clothes from crematoriums, which poor villagers often used as fuel and would consider untouchable because of superstition.
Dukhu Majhi’s story inspired filmmaker Somnath Mondal to make a documentary film, Rukhu Mati Dukhu Majhi’, showcasing his simple life and unique way of protecting trees. The environmental documentary won the 2023 National Film Award and raised awareness about the importance of trees in maintaining ecological balance.
The stories of both the Padma Shri awardees, Chami Murmu and Dukhu Majhi, are filled with positivity and hope. Their efforts to protect trees despite modest means are inspirational.
As Dukhu Majhi said in one of his interviews, given in Bengali, it basically means, ‘if everyone contributed like this, the world would be better with more shade and oxygen, leading to a healthier life’.
Let us strive to make our own.
Apart from Chami Murmu and Dukhu Majhi’s stories, here is another story that will inspire you – Bindeshwar Pathak.
Bindeshwar Pathak has not only transformed millions of lives but also how India and the world look at sanitation, waste, and cleanliness.
Late Bindeshwar Pathak was conferred Padma Vibhusan, India’s second-highest civilian award.
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