“The people who will not sustain trees, will soon have to live in a world that will not sustain people.”
— Bryce Nelson
Are you surprised to learn that the prestigious British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) named an old Indian woman as one of the most influential and inspirational women of the world in 2016? Can you believe that in Los Angeles and Oakland (U.S.A.), an environmental organization is named after this illiterate villager? The President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind, honoured this 108-year-old woman with the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award, last year. The humble woman, Saalumarada Thimmakka from Karnataka, has merited these and many other awards because she has planted over 8,000 trees!
Born in a poor family of Hulikal village, Karnataka, in 1911, Thimmakka never went to school, but worked as a quarry labourer from childhood. At the age of 18, she was married to a labourer, Bikkala Chikkyya. After years of marriage, as the couple had no children, they decided to plant banyan trees and raise them as their children.
Since there were no trees on the highway, the couple started planting banyan trees from their village to the adjacent Kudoor village. Besides watering them every day after their usual work, they also protected them from animals by fencing them with thorny bushes.
In the first year they planted ten trees, second year 15 trees, and in the third year 20 trees. Thus they planted 385 banyan trees along the 4 km highway, and continued planting other trees as well, till the number of trees they planted crossed 8,000.
Though her husband passed away in 1991, Thimmakka did not stop her mission. Even when the monsoon washed away her mud house, with the help of some well-wishers she raised it up. While she survived on a widow’s pension of Rs 75 from the government, she never halted her work. Today, she lives with her foster son Umesh. As rows of trees are called Saalumadara in Kannada, she came to be nicknamed that way.
Thimmakka is also actively involved in state and national environmental protection, and circulates messages of afforestation. When some 70-year-ld trees were to be chopped down to widen the highway, due to her appeal to the then Chief Minister H. D. Kumaraswamy, they were spared. She also built a rainwater storage tank for the annual function in her village, and set up a trust to build a hospital in her husband’s memory.
In spite of her financial crunch, she continues to serve as a model for uneducated village women as to how they can serve society. While receiving the Padma Shri Award, she touched the head of the President and blessed him. Thimmakka is also the recipient of numerous awards from the government like the National Citizen Award, Indira Ratna Puraskar, the Green Mother Award, and Karnataka government’s Rajyothsaya Puraskar.