Educator speaks

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Tarumitra: Effort of the Students to Save the Earth
Dr. Anita Horsey RSCJ(Retd from the Deptt. of History, Sophia College, Bombay

Started in 1988 in Patna, Bihar, Tarumitra has grown into the biggest students’ movement in India campaigning exclusively for the environment of the Earth.  The organization is operative in about 200 high schools and colleges of Bihar, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, M.P and Tamilnadu.  Presently the Tarumitra activities are co-ordinated by Fr. Robert Athickal S.J., a Jesuit and an educationalist.

There are a few areas where the impact of Tarumitra has been decisive. Some of these spheres have been  the following:

1.  Promoting sensitivity to Trees in the State of Bihar and Beyond

As the name of the organization suggests, the group is knows as “Friends of Trees.”  The students have organized very creative programmes, which carried within them an emotional chord with the trees.

Stopping the felling of trees on Serpentine Road, Danapur Cantonment and Patliputra Colony.  The Department of Forests and Environment, Several District Collectors, and other NGOs like Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs, Save International, NSS, have adopted the Tarumitra strategy in some of their plans later on.
Regularly removing nails and ads from thousands of trees on the roadside.  The Government in appreciation of the tender gesture of the students has started to impose fines on people who put up ads on trees.
Celebration of popular festivals with a distinct ecological slant. E.g. Holi, Rakhee etc.

2.  Sacrifice of Two Young Men for the Cause of Environment.

Way back in 1989 Tarumitra mourned the death of its first Eco-martyr, Jayant Chatterjee who died while conducting an environmental survey of North India.  He was 15 years old and the only son of his parents.  Again on 28 Feb, 1994, one of the activists, Pankaj was shot dead when he along with his companions were raising funds for the activities.  Pankaj was a committed boy who had led several ecological campaigns before he was shot dead.

3.  Campaigns to protect the Tropical Bio-diversity

Tarumitra students have been working on a war footing to promote awareness of  bio-diversity.  They do it mainly through the following activities:

Bio-diversity Camps: The organization has conducted more than 200 camps in schools.  As part of the camps the students have conducted bio-diversity surveys in more than 100 localities of the State
Running a Genetic Nursery of rare plants since 1992. The nursery is situated on a piece of land right in the heart of Patna.  It has become immensely popular.  The Patna Botanical garden purchases plants from the nursery on a regular basis.
Building up a unique Bio-reserve in Patna.  Seeing the works of Tarumitra, a premier educational institution, the Patna Jesuit Society gifted the students with a few acres of prime land in the heart of Patna where the students are building up a Bio-reserve since 1996.  His Excellency Dr. A.R Kidwai, the Governor of Bihar laid the foundation stone.  The students have succeeded in planting about 100 varieties of rare trees indigenous to Bihar.  The impressive work is on.

4. Innovative Garbage Disposal Management

As part of the campaign against wastes, the Tarumitra Students have taken two significant steps.

Introduction of a new Concept called  “Earth Tax”.  Started in 1992 to keep the Patna Book Fair Grounds clean, groups of 35 students each day, started taxing people (Rs 3/-) whenever they dropped papers on the fair-ground.
They did the same on an experimental way on Boring Canal Road colonies.  They sent out a notification of Earth Tax if the family
disposed of their garbage on the main road.

5. Propagating Community Solar Cookers

With the help of a German scientist, Wolfgang Scheffler, Tarumitra has built varieties of parabolic solar cookers and installed them at key locations to spread awareness on the non-conventional sources of energy in human life.  The Giant cookers were put up for display in Gandhi Maidan where hundreds of students harnessing solar energy in effective parabolic mirrors, served hot snacks to interested passers by. Today they have created a market where people are putting up giant cookers without subsidy from the government.  They have also put up a Solar pump for demonstrations.

6.  Concerted Drive against  Noise Pollution

While Puja time in Bihar is a season of festivity and fun, very often the pandals and Puja places become ‘torture chambers’ with blaring loudspeakers competing with one another.  The usual sound level remains around 125 decibels in 1994.  The concerted campaign by the Tarumitra students resorting to the provisions of the much forgotten Bihar Loudspeaker Act 1955 has led to the control of noise pollution.  The District Collectors were contacted starting with the District of Patna.

7. Crusade for reasonably maintained roads to combat vehicular pollution

One of the decisive factors in controlling vehicular pollution is the presence of  well maintained roads.   A good road is a rare phenomenon in Bihar.  Tarumitra Students have organized several campaigns to  get roads repaired.  Major among these have been, the Badminton Match Protest on the National High Way in Digha (1992), the 7 Km long Human Chain for Roads (1994), Protest Repair of Roads in Dhanbad (1996). Thousands of students join these crusades.

8. Once Tarumitra students maintained 36 roadside gardens, Oxygen Belts.

Tarumitra students undertook a Herculean task when they descended on  roads like the Boring Canal Road and cleaned up the festering garbage and built roadside gardens in the process. As of now, one of the best-maintained gardens is on Boring Canal road, named after Pankaj, the second eco-martyr of Tarumitra, is no more. It is strange that the development paradigm we followed necessitated the removing of these roadside gardens in favor of wider roads!  The students protested, but their voices did not cut ice with the development brigade. Pankaj Garden is a car park!

9. Giving a distinct Ecological  slant to the celebration of  the popular festivals

When Rakshabandan feast comes Tarumitra students all over Bihar today celebrate it with an ecological start.   They tie colorful giant Rakhees on trees to solemnize the fraternal bond between humans and trees.  This when done extensively influences the children at an early stage of their life.
Tarumitra organized a campaign to burn garbage and not trees for the Holi bonfire.
Students ‘feed’ bajari sweets to tree brothers on the feast of Bhaiya duuj.
Every year there is a Celebration of the Diverse Grains on the feast of Makar Sankranti. when the students eat rice, sesame seeds and seed and think of the grain-rich bygone days.  Ritual celebration of the bio-diversity.

10. Broadening the Concept  of “Environment” in the minds of people

Until recently a very narrow understanding of ‘environment’ basically limited to “trees and Tigers.” Tarumitra has changed this in the minds of people through their various campaigns like: Fighting for Good Roads (About 10 campaigns), Fighting for wetlands in Darbhanga, Begusarai etc. Publicity Campaign for Bihar Education Project in all the schools in the town. (Students showed that environmental education and basic education are inter-related if not synonymous).

Perhaps the greatest achievement of Tarumitra has been the conscientization of the student-body.  The members have succeeded in imparting a sense of confidence in their minds and hearts of their companions instead of giving vent to destructive tendencies, many students have been motivated to do positive things in their life.  Stringing together over 35,000 students from many parts of the State and beyond Tarumitra has led them towards a common vision and action plan.

I have been a witness of the activities of the Tarumitra students since 1992.  In the spirit of the resolutions of the Tbilisi Conference of UNEP, Tarumitra has been achieving the goals they have set up: to promote ecological awareness and knowledge and to equip the students with skills in handling local environmental problems.

Over the years two students, Jayant Chatterjee (16) and Pankaj (19) have laid their lives during the ecological campaigns.  Tarumitra calls them its ‘eco-martyrs’ and the organisation has grown around their sacrifice.