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Chipko Movement: Women-led unfinished movement

Evoking the memories of the movement of the 1970s where women formed unprecedented resistance against tyranny by “hugging trees to protect them from being cut down”, the reoccurrence of the situation in Uttarakhand recently saw large groups of women come together against razing of trees by hugging them, once again inviting the attention of the country towards rampant deforestation in hilly states.

The Chipkoo movement was a non-violent and ecological movement by the people in India especially women who protested against government-backed logging of forests.

The economic growth in the state of Uttar Pradesh following the Sino-Indian border conflict of 1963 and the interior roads built during the conflict captivated the attention of many foreign-based logging companies which had ambitions to gain access to vast forest resources of the region.

In 1964, the Gandhian social activist and environmentalist Chandi Prasad Bhatt founded a cooperative organization, Dhasholi Gram Swarajya Mandal (DGSM) , which became a force of opposition against large scale industries.

The first Chipkoo protest occurred in 1973 near the village of Mandal in upper Alaknanda valley in the month of April. The villagers had been denied access to the small number of trees for making agricultural equipment which caused outrage among them when the government had allotted a much larger plot to a sports equipment manufacturing firm.

Chandi Prasad Bhatt led a group of villagers into the village and embraced the trees from being chopped. After a few days of protest, the government gave in and cancelled the permit to the sports firm and allotted the land to the original allotment request of DGSM.

The Chipko Movement of 1973

Regarded as one of the most prominent and successful forest conservation and environmental movements of India, the Chipko Movement that started in 1973 went on to set an example and paved the way for future environmental campaigns in the country.

The movement gained mainstream prominence during an incident in 1974 in Reni village where Gaura Devi, along with other women of her village, hugged the trees and prevented more than 2000 trees from getting axed.

It was significant due to the strength and determination shown by these women who stood strong against the tyranny they considered affected them, showing the world the result of their resilience when the government finally backed down. Gaura Devi was lauded and praised by the public and was bestowed the title of modern-day “Jhansi ki Rani”

The Recent Incident of Bageshwar

A group of 500 women from a small village- Jaakhni, in Bageshwar District of Uttarakhand, protested the clearing of forests for the construction of a motorable road. This incident occurred a week ago, when a group of women led by their sarpanch — Kamla Devi, took part in an initiative that appeared to be inspired by the famous Chipko Movement of the 1970s and embraced the trees to prevent them from being razed.

We don’t need the road that will require the sacrifice of at least 500 trees. The village already has a water crisis and cutting these trees will further aggravate the situation. The residents of Jakhni village depend on forest produce for their livelihood. How will we survive once the forest is gone?,” the Times of India report quoted 56-year-old Kamla Devi, Sarpanch, Jakhni panchayat.

“Our ancestors built this forest. Since then, it developed into rich biodiversity. Finishing the forest would throw wild animals in the forest at the mercy of poachers. And it will also increase human-animal conflict,” Devi further added.

On the other hand, Bageshwar Divisional Forest Officer, BS Shahi, said that only 43 trees were marked for cutting trees in that forest.

According to a local social worker, Hemwat Singh Mehta, only trees that have a girth of 20 cm are considered trees as per the definition of forest department. So the forest department marked only 43 trees for chopping, he stated, the report said. 

These forests are of significant importance and considered sacred by the villagers, who were left in disgust over the perceived negligence of the government for the villagers’ beliefs. The forests of the hilly states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have been subjected to large scale deforestation in the name of development and it directly affects locals who live there. The forest area is dedicated to Kotgari, Goddess of Justice, and also believed by the locals that any harm to the forest is also a threat to their lives. Hence, the women in large numbers came out of their home to protect the forest from being gashed. The indomitable spirit and unity shown by the villagers reflect the importance of forests and nature to the locals. It is their home, their source of living.

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