Meet Nanda Devi the brave lady who lost her hand while saving the forest
Nanda Devi Kunwar, a renowned community conservationist was married at the age of 13 in the remote district Achham in Nepal. She was born in a poor household and had to endure a life full of challenges and hardships. She and her husband struggled to raise and feed their family of six, including their youngest daughter who had paralysis. In 1995, the couple moved to the Kailali district in search of employment but continued to struggle to raise their large family together. Three years later, her husband left for India for employment and has been working there since, sending back to Nanda part of his monthly income.
Madhumalati Community Forest
After her husband went to India, Nanda Devi and her family started living in a small hut near the Madhumalati Community Forest in Kailali, where she became an active member of the community forest management committee. “This forest brought hope in our lives,” Nanda Devi recalls. “My family was so dependent on it, as I used to get fodder and timber from the forest.” She was so committed to the community forest that she was later elected the President of its committee. She recalls, “Since my childhood, I have always enjoyed playing and spending time grazing my cattle in the forest.”
She and other households relied on the 17-hectare community forest for fodder, wood, and income. Soon Nanda Devi became the President of the forest’s management committee, she led tree plantations that made the forests denser and home to various new species of birds and animals. However, when she realized that Madhumalati Community Forest was not protected and that wild animal freely roams around the nearby villages, she decided to protect the forest with iron fencing, a move which rattled timber smugglers and land encroachers.
Nanda Devi physically attacked by land encroachers
One early morning, Nanda Devi was attacked by forest encroachers, who attacked her with a sharp weapon. She tried to protect herself but was badly injured and lost consciousness. On hearing her cries for help, neighbors came to her rescue. She was brought to Kathmandu where both her hands were operated upon. Sadly, doctors were unable to save her right hand and the thumb of her left was also left paralyzed.
The incident shook the family. Nanda Devi’s children were petrified and insisted their mother to leave the job. Later, Nanda Devi resigned.
Government recognition of her efforts
The Government of Nepal recognized her contribution to forestry conservation, they named a newly found rare species of orchid after her, upon the recommendation of botanists who discovered the orchid. The orchid is called ‘Odanchilas Nandeyi’. The community forest was also re-named to Madhumalati Nandadevi Community Forest.
About the Author
Prakriti S: We all need someone to look up to especially when we are young. Let there be more stories of positivity and upliftment, of women, change-makers, and role models. I aim to highlight and amplify such awe-inspiring voices.