March 26, 2018, marks the 45th anniversary of the Chipko movement. This is the movement that is hailed as a turning point in the conservation of forests in India. Google befittingly commemorated this movement by placing a colourful doodle on its homepage that depicted four women encircling a tree in a human chain.
The Chipko movement (‘Stick’ Or ‘Hug’ The Tree To Save Them From Being Cut Down)
Chipko in Hindi means to ‘embrace’ or ‘hug’. This strategy of hugging or embracing the trees to protect them from being cut down was employed by hundreds of villagers of Uttrakhand’sChamoli district, of which a majority were women. By adopting this movement, the villagers managed to save the forest cover of the Garhwal Himalayas.
Chipko movement was in response to the reckless felling of trees that was affecting the livelihood of the villagers adversely and weakening the river banks. It is no surprise that in 1970, the depleted forest cover caused devastating floods, when the banks of the fast-flowing Alaknanda River crumbled, triggering massive landslides.
Such was the scale of devastation that the landslides blocked the path of the river and its swirling waters washed away hundreds of hamlets. This man-made disaster was responsible not only for the massive destruction of property, flora and fauna but also of thousands of deaths.
The Origin Of The Chipko Movement
The origin of the movement can be traced back to the 70s when the government in power allotted the Alaknanda forests to a sports company that required the wood of a particular tree for their products that grew in this region.
This decision incensed the villagers of Chamoli and Gopeshwar, who depended on these forests for their livelihood. They vehemently opposed the government’s decision. What added fuel to fire was the recent denial of the forest department to these villagers to fell just 10 trees for making farming tools, but it promptly gave permission to Simon Company to cut 300 trees.
In January 1974, the government went ahead and auctioned 2,500 trees that overlooked the Alaknanda River. This became a flashpoint. When in March of that year the lumberjacks arrived to fell the trees, they were spotted by a village girl who promptly reported them to the village head.
Reacting instantly, the village women came in large groups and hugged the trees to stop the woodcutters from cutting them. This continued for days and included night-long vigils. No threats by the contractors and lumberjacks deterred these determined women. As the word of this revolt spread, the woodcutters had to beat a hasty retreat.
Spearheading this movement were the brave village women that included Gaura Devi, Sudesha Devi and Bachni Devi. The bold initiative of these women soon turned into a movement. Led by Chandi Prasad Bhatt, a Gandhian, the villagers literally hugged the trees to save them from the woodcutter’s axe.
Giving direction to this movement, in addition, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, were SundarlalBahuguna, Govind Singh Rawat, Dhoom Singh Negi and Shamsher Singh Bisht. They were able to galvanize the villagers to support this cause. SundarlalBahugunawent on to convince the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, who gave immediate instructions to halt the felling of trees.
Not only did the Chipko movement managed to save the forest cover of the Alaknanda Valley, it also had a far-reaching impact on the country’s environmental laws.