Khejarli Village of Bishnois, Jodhpur
From Jodhpur we took a tour to Khejarli village 26 km south-east to the city. This village is a mute witness to the first documented and one of the greatest green movement in India.
The story is like this: In the year 1730, King Abhay Singh of Jodhpur was expanding and renovating his fort. He instructed his minister, Giridhar Bhandari to collect the Khejri wood required for the construction. The wood had to be collected from Khejarli village where the trees grew in plenty. What the minister didn’t foresee was there would be stiff opposition from the villagers belonging to the Bishnoi community, to the felling of the trees.
Amrita Devi and her daughters were the first to oppose. They hugged the trees and chanted, “seir, santhe runkh raheb, to bhee sasto jaan.” (it is still a small price to pay if at cost of my head the tree is saved). A King’s order is an order and their heads rolled down. But the villagers were not scared, their place was taken by other villagers, then others and so it went on… The news spread, when King heard the news he came rushing to Khejarli village to stop the merciless slaying of the villagers. By then 363 villagers had sacrificed themselves.
I stood in a trance listening to the story from the guide, a lump in my throat…
The Khejri trees, Prosopis Cineraria (Mimosaceae), are remarkably well adapted to the desert, the roots grow a hundred feet down into the earth to reach water. They have edible pods and leaves that are used for fodder; even the bark can be eaten in times of famine. A board stands there today; to remind the present and the future of this gruesome incident and to inspire to fight to protect trees.
So this was the first Chipko movement (hug the tree to oppose cutting down) in Khejarli village of Rajasthan, but it is the second similar incident in 1973 in a remote village of Himalaya attracted more global attention and support. Every year in September prayers are offered to the martyrs and villagers from other villages too pour in to offer their respects.