Me The Change: Meet Dayamani Barla, Tribal Activist and a Climate Warrior

Dayamani has been fighting to save her people’s land, forests, and rivers for nearly four decades.

Climate Change
5 min read

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Meet Dayamani Barla, a conservationist, a climate change activist, a journalist, an author, a tea seller, and a fighter.

Dayamani is a Tribal woman who has been fighting to save her people’s land, forests, and rivers for nearly four decades. She's also known as Jharkhand's Iron Lady.

When we meet her on route to her village near Khunti district, she has little patience for all the climate talk that is not rooted in reality.

"The entire world cries as soon as the month of March comes and heat goes up. The scientists engineers, politicians, ministers, officers everyone starts crying, asking how climate change can be stopped."

Dayamani sitting on the roots of an old tree in a forest.

Photo: Shiv Maurya/The Quint

"But the mantra to control the impacts of climate change lies within the tribal lifestyle that is built around the culture of humans coexisting with the forests. This is the key to fighting against climate change and global warming," she adds.

The day economists and politicians, who design the model for development, understand this, we will start working towards mitigating climate change.


Dayamani typing out a brochure on her computer, to be distributed to farmers and tribals for her next protest.

Photo: Shiv Maurya/The Quint

Dayamani’s connect with the forest goes back to her childhood. The forest was not only her home, but also her provider. Despite having lived a childhood of hardships, Dayamani remembers her early years as a learning.

"I had a unique childhood. I was the youngest sister to three brothers. I started working as an agricultural labourer in the field since I was in third standard," looking up at the tree we are sitting under, she adds, "this tree that we are sitting under, all these trees start bearing fruits in the summers. I would collect and sell these fruits in the market and gather the money for my pen and pencil."

Dayamani taking a selfie with children from her community.

Photo: Shiv Maurya/The Quint

Dayamani's parents and siblings had to leave the village to earn a living in the city of Ranchi, often working as domestic help.

"For as long as I can remember, my connect with the soil, river, reservoir, water, wells, trees and forests has existed. This is because my father left to work as a servant in others’ houses as did my eldest brother. My mother started washing dishes as a maid servant in Ranchi city. So in their absence this land, forest, river, mountain and these trees became my guardians."

Dayamani old photo in a news paper article.

Photo: Shiv Maurya/The Quint

A Life of Protest: For 'Jal-Jungle-Zameen'

Dayamani’s first protest for conservation happened when she was just a student in 1995 against the state government’s Koel-Karo dam project.

"When I was an MCom student, I understood a few things. They had started work on the Koel-Karo dam project. The dam they were constructing on the Koel and Karo river, would have led to water accumulation at two places in Koel and Karo river, drowning 256 villages in the vicinity. 27,000 acres of forest and 55,000 acres of agricultural land would have drowned. This would have displaced 2.5 lakh people. This in 1995 was when my journey with protests started," she tells us, as we walk around her village.

Newspaper clippings, articles, photos bear testimony to Dayamani's fight.

A collage of photos clicked by Dayamani.

Photo: Shiv Maurya/The Quint

But her biggest victory happened against Arcelor-Mittal Steel plant in 2008.

"When we fought against them we were able to save 12,000 hectares of land in one go. People say they are the steel giants of the world. Going against their will and fighting against such a big corporate house to save your village, land and forests will of course have a backlash. I received several threats, threats of deaths and kidnapping. I had to face all sorts of people, but I fought them."

Dayamani unfurling the poster for her next protest.

Photo: Shiv Maurya/The Quint

Revolution in a Tea Cup

How do you lead a life of protest? It starts by selling tea to sustain the fight.

"We started this tea stall in 1996. It was very challenging in the initial days, but I accepted the challenge because I realised if I have to work for my people and on my own resources, then it is crucial to ensure my own bread butter."

Dayamani standing at her tea shop in Ranchi, Jharkhand.

Photo: Shiv Maurya/The Quint

It starts by communicating, telling the stories of your people, in their language. Dayamani started a newspaper, she started publishing booklets and leaflets and finally she started putting her articles in in local publications. A life of protest comes with threats, with detention, with jail. The longest stint Dayamani spent in the jail was three months.

A newspaper article on Dayamani.

Photo: Shiv Maurya/The Quint

When I ask her if she was ever scared, she says defiantly, "I was told to stop coming to villages and talking to these people else we will shoot so many bullets in your body that no one will recognise your corpse. But I had only one thing on my mind, if I get scared and stop going to the village and meeting my people, if they shoot me they will kill only one Dayamani but if I let this fear stop me, lakhs will be killed without any bullets. And even their coming generations will be destroyed. So it is better that I die."

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