Shyam Sundar Paliwal, the former leader of a small village in Rajasthan, India, lost his daughter Kiran when she was very young. In 2006, he took it upon himself to make sure that the other residents of his village, Piplantri, would cherish the life of each girl child to come.
Paliwal implemented an initiative to plant 111 trees to celebrate the birth of each girl born in the village. The villagers plant the trees on Piplantri’s grazing commons, and the community ensures that the trees survive and grow to adulthood, as the Hindu reports. Village residents collect Rs. 21,000 (around $315) and the girl’s parents contribute Rs. 10,000 (around $150), creating a Rs. 31,000 fixed deposit account for the girl which sees her through adulthood.
In addition, as the parents plant the trees, they sign a legal affidavit stating that their daughter will receive a full education and will not be married before she comes of the legal age of 18, according to Folomojo.
According to Paliwal, around 60 girls are born in Piplantri each year. In over half these cases, he told the Hindu, parents were reluctant to accept girl children because they were viewed as less valuable and more expensive. As a result, the tree-planting program was a way to encourage families to celebrate the girls in their families, and to combat a deep-seated culture of female feticide. As Al Jazeera reports, a 2011 study found that up to 12 million female fetuses had been aborted in India within the last decade.
The Indian government has put in place multiple measures to prevent female feticide; for example, testing the gender of a fetus is illegal in India, as are dowries, which make girl children more expensive to parents than boys. Additionally, a program called “Beti Bacho, Beti Padho” (Save our daughters, Educate our daughters) began in 2014 to target districts in which the gender divide is particularly prevalent.
Piplantri’s tree scheme went a step further in that it encouraged parents not only to keep their girl children, but also to celebrate them.
Ten years later, Piplantri’s brand of “eco-feminism” is thriving. The village has planted multiple species of trees that have begun to bring it revenue: mango, neem, sheesham and amla, among others. Additionally, the villagers planted aloe vera plants around the trees to act as natural pesticides, which itself became a form of revenue when villagers began processing and selling the aloe vera. The trees, along with the aloe vera plants, now provide livelihoods to a number of Piplantri’s 8,000 residents.
In planting a future for its young women, the town of Piplantri has put itself on the map–and found that money can grow on trees.