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40 years since women embraced trees in Chipko Andolan

Wednesday, 26 March 2014 - 8:54am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna webdesk

Chipko Andolan was a non-violent protest against cutting down of forests in Uttarakhand, that resulted in a 15-year-ban on felling of trees in Himalayan region.
  • sunderlal-bahuguna Sunderlal Bahuguna-one of the prominent activists of Chipko Andolan

The landmark event in Chipko Andolan when a group of peasant women embraced trees to stop contractors from chopping them took place on 26th March 1974. It's been 40 years since the day. It was a movement based on the principle of non-violence. It started during 1970s and 1980s. Chipko Andolan, as the name suggests had the natives of Reni village, Chamoli district of Uttarakhand embrace trees to save them. The protest was carried out in order to prevent cutting down of forests throughout India. The contractors were first confronted by the villagers who requested them, not to cut the forests. But their pleas fell on deaf ears; the contractors threatened them with guns. 27 ladies under the leadership of Gaura Devi protested when they embraced the trees and guarded them, all night.

Many of the contractors who had come to cut the trees left the village. When the news spread across neighbouring villages in the district more people started joining the protest. As a result, the contractors left after a four day standoff. The protestors emerged victorious when government led by then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi issued a 15 year ban on felling of trees in Himalayan region.  Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Gandhian social worker established Dasholi Gram Swarajya Sangh (DGSS) in 1964. He wanted to set up small industries by using the materials available in forests. Initially, they started with a small workshop for making farm tools. But they were subjected to restrictive forest policies and the contractor system. These contractors bought the pieces of forest lands and brought their own labourers to work, leaving the locals almost unemployed. As a result, outsiders started residing in the in hilly regions which in turn affected the ecological balance. Thoughtless deforestation in Garhwal Himalayas resulted in Alaknanda river floods in July 1970, a major landslide blocked the river affecting areas such as Badrinath and Haridwar.

Both male and female activists actively participated in the movement. The people in the forefront in Chipko Movement include Sunderlal Bahuguna, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Bachni Devi, Gaura Devi, Dhoom Singh Negi, Shamsher Singh Bisht, Indu Tikekar, Sudesha Devi and Ghansyam Raturi.

Sunderlal Bahuguna, a Gandhian activist and philosopher, who appealed to Indira Gandhi for the ban on felling of trees and foot marched the 5000 kilometre trans-Himalaya in 1981-83. Chandi Prasad Bhatt encouraged local industries based on conservation and sustainable use of forests for locals. Dhoom Singh Negi and Bachni Devi along with several women saved the trees by hugging them and invented the slogan, ‘What do the forests bear? Soil, water and pure air.’ Ghansyam Raturi was a Chipko poet whose songs echo throughout the Himalayas.

Chandi Prasad Bhatt was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1982, and Sunderlal Bahuguna was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2009.

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