National Forest Martyrs Day is observed on September 11 to pay tribute to those who sacrificed their lives to protect forests and wildlife. Given how important forests are for earning a livelihood in many parts of the country, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change declared in 2013 that a day should be set aside in honour of forests and those who work to protect them.
September 11 was chosen to be observed as the National Forest Martyrs Day as it was on this day in 1730, that the infamous Khejarli massacre took place. Maharaja Abhay Singh of Rajasthan gave an order to cut down the Khejarli trees in the forest.
People from the Bishnoi community protested against the order as they considered Khejarli trees to be sacred. As a mark of protest, a woman named Amrita Devi offered her head to save Khejarli trees from being cut down
However, the Maharaja’s men didn’t think twice and beheaded Amrita Devi. They went on to kill over 350 people that day, including young children of Amrita Devi.
When the news of the massacre reached the Maharaja, he was shaken by the incident and withdrew his order. He apologized to the people and praised their dedication to the cause of protecting forests. Maharaja Abhay Singh went a step further and issued a decree that forbade the cutting of trees and hunting of wildlife in the forest in the future.
The observance of the National Forest Martyrs is marked by several events aimed at creating awareness about protecting forests and the environment at large. The day holds a lot of significance in the present scenario when depleting green cover is among the greatest challenges in front of the world.