When Nirmala Devi gave birth to a girl in 1961, her husband celebrated by planting 50 mango saplings.
The births of her second daughter and, years later, granddaughters were celebrated in a similar fashion by her family in Dharhara, a small village 230 km east of Patna in Bihar's Bhagalpur district.
Today, Nirmala Devi has a mango and litchi orchard spread over 10 acres.
This unique mix of celebrating the birth of a girl child and protecting the environment makes Dharhara a role model for villages in Bihar.
“It’s an age-old custom. Nobody knows how, when and why it was started,” says Nirmala (68), who settled in the village after marriage in 1957. “But everybody, be it rich or poor, forward or backward, plants trees on the birth of a girl child.”
The birth of a girl here is greeted with the planting of at least 20 fruit-bearing trees, and children are treated as the avatars of Goddess Lakshmi.
The green village, surrounded by river Ganga to the south and the unpredictable river Kosi to the north-east, is nestled in the midst of more than 20,000 fruit-bearing trees.
The daughters of Dharhara proudly call themselves green activists.
“Besides keeping the environment clean and disease-free, this (planting trees when a girl is born) is like an insurance cover for our daughters,” says Nirmala. “People in town fix money for their daughters’ marriage,” she adds. “We plant fruit trees.”