When PG Sudha got promoted as the forester at the Pooyamkutty forest station, the tribal people living at the Koovapara colony couldn't hold back their tears. They couldn't bear the thought of their favourite Sudha 'sir' bidding adieu to them. As a forest guard, she found a special place in their hearts as the person who guided them and helped to improve hygiene in the colonies.
Though Sudha is proud that she had won many honours, including those from the district collector and the prime minister, she is overwhelmed by the love that the people of those colonies have for her. What had this middle-aged woman from a tribal community done to earn the accolades of her own people and the government?
From guard to leader
The forest department had entrusted Sudha with the responsibility of overseeing the construction of toilets at all the houses in the tribal colonies under the Swachh Bharat Mission. “Initially I was sceptical whether I would be able to do that. I wasn't sure whether I could stay away from home for so long. It was in September 2016 that I was ordered to do this. I was 50 then. I was tense when the authorities asked me to build toilets in all the houses in 9 colonies within just 3 months. But when my colleagues and senior officials offered their whole-hearted support, I decided to give it a try,” Sudha recalled.
Sudha treaded the difficult forest paths to reach tribal colonies along with the labourers. She not only gave proper instructions to her co-workers but also played a major role in creating awareness about the issues plaguing the tribal people. She lived in the forest for weeks, and often carried the construction materials on her shoulders and walked for more than 20 km. On the forest paths, she had even spotted tuskers and tigers. However, Sudha had courageously survived all those, as she was determined to do something for her own people.
Sudha was born in the Vannapuram adivasi colony at Kuttambuzha, near Kothamangalam, on the outskirts of Ernakulam district. When none from the colonies showed interest in education, Sudha enthusiastically went to the school. Later she cleared the PSC test and got a job in the forest department. It has been 16 years since Sudha has been serving the department with dedication.
It was on September 16, 2002 that Sudha got her first posting, and has since worked in different parts of the state including Kunjipara and Koovapara in Ernakulam district. Under Sudha's leadership, 497 toilets were built within just 3 months and this incredible feat even earned her national recognition and honour.
Though Sudha was supposed to build only toilets, she built bathrooms as well at many places. She spoke to the tribal people about the significance of hygiene. “I constantly thought about the poor conditions at my own ‘ooru’ (settlement). I wished to make them better by providing better health and hygiene facilities. My greatest happiness is that I have accomplished it,” Sudha noted.