Saalumarada Thimmakka is a simple villager from Karnataka who is now widely feted as an environmentalist.
She was born in the village of Hulikal in a poor family. She did not receive any formal education. At a very young age, she began working as a labourer in a quarry. She was married to a cattle herder Chikaaiah. They did not have children so they decided to do their bit for society.
The stretch of road between Hulikal and Kudur was dry and barren, and people who had to traverse the road everyday had a tough time. The couple took on the responsibility of planting saplings along the road. Since peepal trees were common in the area where they stayed, they grafted saplings from these trees and planted them along the road, 10 in the first year, 15 in the next and so on. They personally nurtured the saplings carrying pots of water over 4 km to water them. They planted trees in the monsoons and they would grow by the end of the year. Eventually, this became a part of their routine. After Chikaaiah’s death in the early 1990s, Thimmakka continued the task on her own. Today there are more than 300 trees along the road. They provide a respite for the villagers, and have also led to an improvement in the climate of the region. The state government has now taken up the responsibility for these trees.
Thimmakka’s efforts were recognised and the tag ‘Saalumarada’ meaning ‘row of trees’ in Kannada was added to her name. She has also been known by other names such as Vanamitra, Vrikshashri, Nisargaratna and so on. She has got a number of awards such as the Nadoga award by Hampi University, Karnataka Kalpavalli Award, Indira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra Award and the National Citizen’s Award. A well-known organization for environmental conservation in the USA has been renamed Thimmakka’s Resources for Environmental Education in her honour.
In addition to her afforestation projects, she has been instrumental in constructing a rainwater tank for her village. Her dream is to build a hospital for the village.
Now more than 100 years old, Thimmakka is an inspiration as an illiterate person from a humble background who rose above her circumstances to make a significant contribution to her village and to the environment at large.