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Purnima Barman, Winner Of The Green Oscars, Is Working To Protect The Stork Bird In Assam

  • IWB Post
  •  January 3, 2018

Assam’s conservationist Purnima Barman’s passion to protect the stork bird won her the Whitley Award this year in May, which is also known as the Green Oscars.

She is the force behind the ‘Hargila Army’ (Hargila is the Assamese name for the greater adjutant stork), which works towards the conservation of the Greater Adjutant Stork and its habitat. The species, which was once common across wetlands in south-east Asia, is now endangered. With only around 1,200 of these birds remaining today, of which 800 reside in Assam, this is a big concern. Assamese conservationist Purnima is hence putting her efforts into protecting them.

She works with Guwahati-based NGO Aaranyak and works in the Kamrup district. When she saw a local unable to bear the stench of bird droppings in the courtyard and cutting down the nesting tree, even as the stork chicks fell from their nests, she understood that to work with the locals is going to be a bit difficult. She told The Hindu, “I realised it was unfair to blame the residents. No one knew why the hargila should be protected. This had to change.”

She gave up her doctoral research to spread awareness amongst the locals about the need to protect nesting trees. She gathered the crowd and requested, “I clean up my daughters’ mess at home, just like you. Could you see the hargila as your children, and clean up after them?”

She slowly understood the pulse of the locals and incorporated Hargila awareness into regional traditions. She incorporated stork characters in Durga puja processions and also introduced the bird into folk songs.

Her army is an all-woman team dedicated to protecting the species. What we can also gather is that she strongly believes in women’s empowerment. She stated, “I believe in women’s empowerment because they are always left behind, especially in villages.”

Speaking of her initial days, she said, “I would come back late from fieldwork. My parents were upset because the neighbours were unhappy. Convincing my parents was a big challenge.”

Now, her parents and husband are her biggest strengths. They still worry about her climbing 80-foot ladders to a bamboo platform where she sits for hours on end to observe the odd-looking birds.

“I may get a Green Oscar but the battle will never end. This is a life-long commitment,” she said. She is one of the 32 nominees for the Indianapolis Prize 2018 for her campaigns for the survival of the greater adjutant stork in the areas of Dadara, Pachariya and Hingimari villages of Kamrup district.

H/T: The Hindu

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