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Chipko@40: Revisiting India’s legendary ecological movement

Forty five years ago, villagers in the Alakananda valley stopped a group of loggers from felling a patch of ash trees. Thus was born the Chipko Andolan, the peasant movement that focused popular attention on the depredations of commercial forestry in India. A tribute to India’s original ecological movement, which inspired many more to come.

Snigdha Das, Down to Earth

Women in the Himalayan villages hugged trees, braving the axes of loggers with government permits, and stopped the clear-felling of mountain slopes. This simple but effective way of protest that marked the Chipko movement and its protagonists has always intrigued me. Now that I am heading for the birthplace of the movement, a small town called Gopeshwar, anticipation and excitement sweep over me.

The taxi I boarded from Rishikesh soon leaves the crowded plains behind and starts climbing the steep incline. The road bends and curves at every possible angle, offering glimpses of the mighty Himalayan range. I start getting goose bumps when I realise that guardrails are missing on portions of the road that clings to the edge of a cliff. About 10-20 metres below, the Ganga flows in the opposite direction with all its force. I try not to let any negative thought cross my mind and shift focus on the assignment at hand.

More than four decades have passed since the Chipko movement was born in March 1973. It was primarily a peasant’s movement and at its heart was a Gandhian philosophy: self-sustenance of villages. But most villages in Uttarakhand continue to depend on the money-order economy. In fact, a staggering 3,600 of the state’s 16,793 villages have turned into ghost habitations as people are abandoning agriculture and migrating to towns. The other aspect of the movement, which brought it glamour, is that it was largely led by simple, uneducated women who spent most part of the day fetching water from distant streams and foraging for firewood and fodder from steep mountainsides. In Reni village near Joshimath, women under the leadership of 50-year-old Gaura Devi, drove out the lumbermen. (See what these people have to share about Chipko)

This is no mean feat in a society where egalitarianism is almost absent. The movement has inspired eco-feminism in India and worldwide, but has it brought liberation to the women of Uttarakhand? How does the present generation relate to its forests? And has the government changed its attitude towards forests?

View the full story and videos on the Down to Earth website


The past & present of Indian environmentalism
Ramachandra Guha, The Hindu
The first thing to remember about Chipko is that it was not unique. It was representative of a wide spectrum of natural resource conflicts in the 1970s and 1980s — conflicts over forests, fish, and pasture; conflicts about the siting of large dams; conflicts about the social and environmental impacts of unregulated mining. In all these cases, the pressures of urban and industrial development had deprived local communities of access to the resources necessary to their own livelihood. Peasants saw their forests being diverted by the state for commercial exploitation; pastorialists saw their grazing grounds taken over by factories and engineering colleges; artisanal fisherfolk saw themselves being squeezed out by large trawlers.

Video: 45 years ago, the women of Chamoli village hugged trees to protect them from being cut
A look at the history the Chipko movement and what led to the rise of this non-violent grassroots campaign in the 1970s.

Three environmental agitations inspired by the Chipko movement
The Indian Express
The Chipko Movement started off under the leadership of Gaura Devi, a middle-aged Bhotia woman, who managed to mobilise about 30 women of her village to step out of their homes and protect the green cover of their lands with their lives. In the following decades, however, the movement found itself being echoed in varying capacities in large parts of India and the world. Here are three such environmental movements which were inspired by the Chipko movement.

The Bishnois, India’s original environmentalists, who inspired the Chipko movement
Ishrath Humairah, TreeSouls
The Bishnois may be considered as India’s first environmentalists. The famous ‘Chipko Movement’ was inspired by the true story of Amrita Devi Bishnoi, who refused to let the king’s men cut trees in her village. Her head was severed. More than 300 people who did the same were killed for trying to protect the trees.


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