She was just 12 when she got married. After this, she not only went on to change her life but also led to the development of her entire village. From fighting with Naxalites to planting trees and doing rain water harvesting, Jaya Devi is truly the “Green Lady” of Bihar.
Jaya Devi was just 12 when she got married and 16 when she delivered a baby girl. Like many others, she could have just remained another child bride of Bihar. But she chose a different path to become the “Green Lady” of Bihar instead.
She was forced to discontinue her studies due to Naxalites’ threats and faced many other struggles while growing up. But Jaya was not a regular girl. She was determined to change the situation of her life and the village she lived in.
One day, during a regular medical checkup, she shared her desire to bring a change with the nurse. The lady advised her to form a group as fighting alone in Bihar was not an easy task. She then set up a Self Help Group in 1997 in Saradhi village of Bihar to help marginalised communities, especially women, avoid money lenders and become financially independent.
“Being a tribal woman, I have seen Naxal attacks and all the struggles. Everyone had to live at their mercy. I was determined to change the situation. I wanted my villagers to become financially stable,” she says.
She started with bringing women together and helping them save money. A large part of her work revolved around freeing her villagers from the grip of moneylenders. She enabled women to educate themselves, send their children to school and take advantage of already existing schemes of the government.
From getting their ration card and ID card made to fighting for the rights of the tribals and raising her voice against sexual violence, Jaya Devi was everywhere and helped the villagers in many amazing ways.
“The major problem with the village was that there was no source of income. The entire harvest was dependent on rain which was very uneven. So we started rain water harvesting,” she says.
She met a social worker from a nearby village, Kishore Jaiswal, who introduced her to the various methods of rain water conservation. Jaya brought the villagers together and constructed a tank to catch the rain water. She also managed to get people to give “shramdaan” (voluntary labour) and construct the tank all by themselves.
Her efforts started to gradually show results. The well irrigated fields gave bumper crops in the next season, which raised the confidence of the farmers and encouraged them to submit a proposal to NABARD.
Inspired by their efforts, NABARD came forward to support them and helped in the construction of six more tanks in the village. “For every Rs.100 worth of work, the villagers contributed Rs.16 as ‘shramdaan’ and the rest of the cost was borne by NABARD,” she says.
Not only this, to take their efforts to a new level, the villagers laid an 800-feet pipeline to bring water from the Kareli hills to the ground. This project was a huge success and gave a good boost to agricultural growth in that low rainfall area.
Her love for nature enabled her to spread awareness about tree plantation, and she, along with the help of the villagers, planted over 1 lakh trees in her village and nearby areas.
“It was really hard to reach this far. In a community where child marriage still prevailed, people were not literate and had no awareness about new methods of agriculture. Getting them on board to try new things and take charge was a challenge. But thanks to everyone’s support, we managed to do it,” she says.
With the success of their initiatives, the face of the village changed. People, especially women, became self-dependent, confident and empowered. The farmers got together to fight for their rights and got liberated from the money lenders. Children started going to school and women too learnt to write their names. With their constant efforts, the soil became more fertile and gave a better harvest too.
“The change was gradual but evident. Women’s health was improving because they paid more attention to it now. Rain water was utilised properly which helped in getting better crops. We also trained the women to start some small-part time businesses like making home-made chyavanprash,” she says.
In the future, Jaya Devi wants to work towards the betterment of her village and her people. She wants to stop the migration to cities and enable people to earn a better income.
“I want to educate all the children, especially girls, stop child marriage, and more than anything, I want to provide safety to the villagers. We have been living in threat our entire lives due to the Naxalites. We need the support of people and the government to fight this,” she says.
Jaya Devi is a remarkable example of how strong a woman can be. And no matter what comes her way, she will always achieve her goals. We congratulate Jaya Devi for her tremendous efforts and hope to see many more amazing change makers like her.