Written by Uthara Menon, a grade 4 student.
Decades ago, in the remote Chamoli district, villagers embraced forest trees to protect them from the axes and chainsaws of the loggers. That was the beginning of the Chipko Movement: a unique peoples’ movement to protect the forest cover of the Himalayas.
The Chipko movement or Chipko Andolan was a forest conservation movement in India to stop the large-scale felling of trees in the Himalayas. It first started in 1973 in the Chamoli district of Uttar Pradesh (now Uttrakhand). The movement was special for two reasons- it was nonviolent, and women played an important role in it.
The origins of the Chipko movement
The original Chipko movement dates back to the 18th century in the kingdom of Marwar. Around 363 people from 84 different villages, led by Amrita Devi, laid down their lives to protect a group of Khejri trees that were to be cut down at the order of the maharaja, or king, of Jodhpur. When the Maharaja came to know about the massacre, he decreed that the trees were to be left standing. Initially, the movement in Chamoli was called “Angalwaltha”, the Garhwali word for “embrace”. The protesters linked hands and formed a ring around the trees thus physically preventing the loggers from reaching the trees. The movement was later renamed in the Hindi word “Chipko,” which means “to stick”.
Why trees matter in the Himalayas
Chipko movement was sparked off by the government’s decision to allot a plot of forest area in the Alaknanda valley to a sports goods company. Deforestation because of large-scale felling of trees had some very serious consequences in the hilly areas. Trees provide fuelwood, fodder, and fruits, and other produce to the local villagers and tribes. In the Himalayas, the roots of trees hold the soil together. Cutting down trees causes soil erosion which often leads to landslides and low agricultural yield. It also causes water depletion while increasing flash floods. So, the livelihood and lives of the people of the hills depend directly on trees. No wonder, the villagers gathered and embraced trees when loggers tried to cut them.
The birth of Chipko movement
The movement was born in 1973, when loggers turned up at the village of Mandal to cut down a large plot of forest trees. Local Gandhian leader, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, led the villagers to the forest where they hugged the trees to prevent this logging. This forced the government to cancel the contract with the sports goods company that was cutting down the trees. Chipko movement was special in two ways: It was non-violent, and women played an active role in the movement. In fact, in village Reni, where 2000 trees were to be felled, it was the women, led by Gaura Devi, who embraced the trees and forced the logging to stop. Their protest led to a 10-year ban on commercial logging in the Alaknanda region. Chipko movement eventually spread across the Himalayan range and to other parts of India wherever natural vegetation and habitats were threatened by commercial and industrial activities.
Sunderlal Bahuguna, a Gandhian and an environmentalist
One of the prominent leaders of the Chipko movement was Sunderlal Bahuguna, a Gandhian environmentalist. The idea of The Chipko movement was given to him by his wife, Vimla Bahuguna. One of Sunderlal Bahuguna’s notable contributions to the Chipko movement, and environmentalism in general, was his creation of the Chipko’s slogan “Ecology is permanent economy”. Bahuguna fought for the preservation of forests in the Himalayas. He received many awards like “The Right Livelihood Award” in 1987 and “The Padma Vibhusan” in 2009. Bahuguna turned down ” The Padma Shri” over the government’s refusal to cancel the construction of “The Tehri Dam Project” despite massive widespread protests. Sadly, on the 21st of May 2021, Bahuguna died due to a Covid infection. We pay our respects to this great environmentalist.
Over the years, The Chipko movement has been a great success. It has been able to save 4,000 trees. Not only that in 1980 Prime minister Indira Gandhi issued a ban on commercial tree felling in The Himalayan ranges for fifteen years! The Chipko movement also led to a huge reforestation drive across the Himalayas. We thank The Chipko movement for saving so many trees and protecting the environment.
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