Also known as “Saalumarada”- which means rows of trees in Kannada- Thimmakka has reportedly planted over 8,000 trees in 80 years.
Karnataka-based environmentalist Saalumarada Thimmakka has been named one of the 100 influential and inspirational women by the BBC in its recently released 100 Women 2016 list.
The 105-year-old woman, also known as “Saalumarada”- which means rows of trees in Kannada- is known for growing close to 400 Banyan trees, and nurturing them as her children, on a 4km stretch between Hulikal and Kudur.
According to the BBC, she has planted over 8,000 trees in 80 years.
Thimmakka was born to a poor family in Gubbi in Tumakuru district. She could never attend school and at the age of 10, she began working as a coolie. Some years later, she was married off to Bekal Chikkayya from Ramanagar district, who too hailed from a modest background.
“She had no respite from poverty and a series of difficult situations followed her in that phase of her life too. Unfortunately, the couple remained childless even after many years of their marriage. Disappointed and pained because of this childless life, both of them started to treat trees as their own children,” the Thimmakka Foundation website states.
The couple reportedly also had to face social ridicule for not being able to bear children. Her husband however was very supportive of her.
“One day we thought why not plant trees and tend to them like we would our children,” Thimmakka told Aljazeera in 2013. That’s when the couple started planting the banyan trees.
Chikkayya died a few years later and Thimmakka said that her relatives “wanted to grab the small parcel of land I owned, and they tried all means to get it. Eventually, they did by paying me a small sum.”
KS Dakshina Murthy, in the Aljazeera report, explained how Thimmakka, from her simple existence, “shot into the limelight by a fortuitous combination of circumstances in 1996”.
N V Negalur, a local journalist, “broke” Thimmakka’s story and this came to the notice of then Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda.
“Soon, Thimmakka found herself on a train to distant New Delhi, accompanied by a retinue of mandarins. In India’s capital, the prime minister handed her the National Citizens Award, an event that changed her life forever,” he wrote.
Thimmakka is a recipient of numerous awards for her contributions to the environment including the National Citizens Award (1996) and the Godfrey Phillips Award (2006).
In 2015, Thimmakka said she’d return all the awards that were conferred on her by the Karnataka government after her demands for a maternity clinic to be set up in her village in Magadi taluk was given no heed to.
“How we planted and took care of the trees, everyone from children to the elderly should plant and grow trees. It will be beneficial for all of us,” Thimmakka told CNN.