DEHRADUN : ‘Best Ecologist Ghasiyari’ award, a unique competition which seeks to honour village women and inculcate ecological awareness among them, will be organised on December 22 with participation from over a 2000 village women from around 250 villages in Akhori village of Tehri Garhwal. The competition which is organised by an NGO that is working towards ensuring equal rights for the rural poor, involves a grass cutting contest where each contestant is judged on her speed and skill at grass cutting (which has to be done without harming beneficial plants). The winner gets a cash prize of Rs one lakh and a silver crown, while the first runner up will get Rs 51,000 and silver crown and third runner up Rs 21,000 with silver crown.
Shankar Gopalakrishnan, joint convener of organization Chetna Andolan said, “Ghasiyaris have protected Uttarakhand’s forests for hundreds of years and have a deep, intimate understanding of these ecosystems. They have also been at the forefront of every struggle to protect this state and its resources, from the Chipko Andolan to the Uttarakhand movement to the ongoing struggles against illegal dam and industrial projects. It is their heroism that has protected the mountains and rivers that feed all of north India. Yet till date they suffer grinding poverty and exploitation.”
Convener, Trepan Singh Chauhan said that the centre and state governments continue to grossly violate the 2006 Forest Rights Act, whose foremost beneficiaries would be the ghasiyaris”. “People discouraged us to fix a big prize money for poor village people. However we wanted to give dignity to the women and their labour by keeping a big amount as prize money . Last year’s winner Reja Devi , from poor background, could pay off her long pending debt of Rs 80,000 with the prize money,” he said.
On arrangement of prize money, he said, some of the money come as fee of Rs 100 for filling up one contest form by each competitor, however the fee is not compulsory for poor people. While some money come from donations and friends. Talking about silver crown, he said, “Initially we planned to give silver sickle, but women protested saying that all the time they carry sickle in their hands. They wanted silver crown instead.”
The contest will start in all the villages by December 7 , where three women will be selected at each village by the local judges. These women will contest at semi-final level on December 8. Around 100 plus semi-finalists will then compete for final round on December 22 where a panel of one local and three eminent personalities will choose the winner and second and third runner up. The winner will be judged on the basis of maximum grass collection in just two minutes and, her score in interview round where she will be judged for her knowledge about forest and cattle.
First published on The Times of India