Hope From Piplantri

meRk6KkEvil sucks.

As someone who has run a marathon or two, it’s certainly been a difficult week. The marathon bombing is tragic on so many levels. And, while there is hope in the stories of survivors and heroic responders alike, make no mistake about it, evil won that day.

For too long, evil has won more than its share of days when it comes to the treatment of women in the country of India. You’ve probably heard the headlines, of women gang-raped on buses, of short-term “contract marriages,” and of women unable to succeed due to deeply entrenched cultural patterns of male privilege.

Evil sucks, but evil doesn’t always win.

Consider the village of Piplantri in northwestern India. The people of Piplantri are pushing against the tide of privilege that’s expressed in the abandonment of unwanted girl babies. Here’s the story:

For the last several years, Piplantri village panchayat has been saving girl children and increasing the green cover in and around it at the same time.

Here, villagers plant 111 trees every time a girl is born and the community ensures these trees survive, attaining fruition as the girls grow up.

Over the last six years, people here have managed to plant over a quarter million trees on the village’s grazing commons- inlcuding neem, sheesham, mango, Amla among others.

On an average 60 girls are born here every year, according to the village’s former sarpanch Shyam Sundar Paliwal, who was instrumental in starting this initiative in the memory of his daughter Kiran, who died a few years ago.

In about half these cases, parents are reluctant to accept the girl children, he says.

Such families are identified by a village committee comprising the village school principal along with panchayat and Anganwadi members.

Rs. 21,000 is collected from the village residents and Rs.10,000 from the girl’s father and this sum of Rs. 31,000 is made into a fixed deposit for the girl, with a maturity period of 20 years.

But here’s the best part.

“We make these parents sign an affidavit promising that they would not marry her off before the legal age, send her to school regularly and take care of the trees planted in her name,” says Mr. Paliwal.

It’s poetic, right? Instead of abandonment, there is celebration. Instead of an forgotten child, trees are planted. Instead of evil, there is a commitment to the communal good.

In the aftermath of the Boston heartbreak, a meme of Mr. Rogers has been making the rounds on facebook. It’s a shot of Mr. Rogers accompanied by one of his quotes:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

It’s a good word. Thank God for the helpers, for the brave men and women of Boston, and, a half a world away, for the counter-cultural people of Piplantri.

What about you? How can you help someone today?

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