5th of June is known to be celebrated as World Environment Day. On this occasion it is very important to remember the Chipko movement, a movement that actually made people realise the importance of ecology and the symbiotic relationship between man and nature. With the growing population, and their growing need for luxury and satiety, destruction to the environment is growing multifolds. Man’s dependency on forests has been mainly responsible for its depletion.
Earlier, rulers like Chandra Gupta Maurya had realised the importance of forests and aimed at preserving them, however during the early part of British rule, trees were felled recklessly for development purposes like building of railways as well as to generate revenue. Before the forest department came to rescue the forests, communities living near the forests took care of them. They were socially, traditionally and physiologically dependent on forests for their sustenance. Since the community had customary rights to the forests, they knew how to use the forests rationally and in a renewable way without doing much harm.
The Bishnois, considered to be the 1st environmentalists in India, protested against the King in Khejalri when he was cutting down trees imprudently . The famous Chipko movement is inspired from this; however unlike its romanticized version the women did not literally hug the trees during the Chipko Movement. The actual story went somewhat like this. In 1971, heavy floods struck Alaknanda which caused devastating loss to human life and farm. Due to this unacceptable loss, the community became aware and decided to protect the trees. On 26th March, 1974, the men from the village were called to Chamoli to collect their compensation for the land lost in Malari. That is when the contractors set out to cut the trees. The historical story of Chipko thus began when a small girl ran to Gaura Devi- head of the Mahila Mangal Dal who along with the other women created a human chain to prevent the contractors from causing further damage to the forests, their home.
There was a long strife between the forest department and the community. The bravery and strength of the Bhotiya women caused the contractors to finally withdraw their plan of cutting the trees.
The government could no longer treat Chipko as a small reaction or resistance. A committee was set up which found deforestation to be the cause of floods. Therefore a 10 year ban on commercial cutting of trees was imposed. However, this was short lived success on the community’s part. In 1982, the Nanda Devi sanctuary was taken under conservation by the government, and declared a National Park. The shameful part was that such a decision was made without taking into consideration the repercussions on the community. The creation of this national park not only led to destruction of human habitation but also their source of income. Leader Dhan Singh Rana launched Jhapto Cheeno. It was a protest to earn back the customary rights of the community. After a long haul, finally the national park was partially opened for expedition, thus helping a few people sustain their incomes.
The Chipko movement raised awareness about environmental protection and the need of stopping the commercialisation of natural resources. The active participation by the community living around the forests helped realise their rights. Sundarlal Bahuguna coined the Chipko slogan: ‘ecology is permanent economy’, while Chandi Prasad Bhatt, another leader of the Chipko movement, encouraged the development of local industries based on the conservation and sustainable use of forest wealth for local benefit. This generated employment for several local people.
Apart from promoting only environmental safety, Chipko also brought attention to safety of people protecting the forests. The DSGM, mother organisation of the Chipko Movement, has been successful in understanding the psychology of the villagers. It has been active in making the villagers understand the importance of the Chipko movement and in seeking their active participation in afforestation and conservation. It holds eco-development camps to make them realise that without forests, all their economic, social and traditional values will be at stake. Such organisations gave voice to the communities, educating a whole lot of villagers. Even though it might not have been a feminist movement, the movement gave impetus to women to involve themselves in saving the environment. It dismissed the notion that the poor destroy their environment and do not want to protect it. Before the Chipko movement, it was believed that the loss of environment and deforestation was caused due to the mismanagement by the local people and their ‘unorganised behaviour’, however after Chipko movement it came to light that it was actually the forest department and the industrialists that caused harm to the environment.
The Chipko movement was based on the Gandhian philosophy of peaceful resistance to achieve the goals. The success of the movement in the hills saved thousands of trees from being felled and even lead to its reproduction in different ecological and cultural contexts. It inspired several other movements like the Appiko Movement in Karnataka and several other environmental movements in Japan, Germany etc. This Environment Day we must learn from Chipko and protect the environment. We must acknowledge the bravery and wisdom of the brave women and their foresight in protecting the environment.
Picture Credits: IndiaTimes