The first Chipko action occurred in April 1973. Over the next five years, the movement spread to several hill districts in Uttar Pradesh. In 1980, Chipko activists won a fifteen-year ban on green felling in the Himalayan forests. The movement has also succeeded in stopping the felling of trees in the Western Ghats and the Vindhyas. Spurred by its victories, the Chipko Movement spread to Himachal Pradesh, Kamataka, Rajasthan, Bihar and to the Vindhyas in Central India.
Why should I be aware of this?
- Chipko activists succeeded in stopping the felling of trees, showing that one does not need governments, to protect the environment.
- Most importantly, the Chipko Movement has forced the government and industry to become more sensitive to people's needs and ecological requirements. It has shown the world that even disadvantaged villagers can raise their voices against rampant environmental destruction – and succeed.
- The Chipko movement demonstrated how finely human life and ecology are balanced, and highlighted the perils of altering this balance for short term gains.
- A satellite remote sensing study conducted by the Space Applications Center, Ahmedabad in mid- 2000s, showed that the forest cover which was lost due to commercial felling between 1959-1969 has nearly been regained in the sensitive catchment of the Upper Alaknanda river.
All about the chipko movement
The word Chipko literally means `to embrace’, and indeed, protesters hugged trees, putting their own bodies between them and the contractor’s axe. The Chipko Movement, which is a collective name used to refer to a number of such struggles, gained nation-wide attraction and inspired many other ecological movements in India. This was one of the key reasons for the increase in the environmental awareness in the 1990s in India.
Origins of the Chipko Movement
Historically, the Chipko Movement was started by a community of villagers in the state of Rajasthan, called the Bishnois. The first known incident of Chipko movement was believed to be in 1604 A.D., when two Bishnoi women, Karma and Gora, sacrificed their lives in an effort to prevent the felling of Khejri(Prosopis cineraria) trees, which in Rajasthan are treated with great reverence. Thus started a movement which has made the Bishnois the pioneers of environment and wildlife conservation in India.
The germ of the Chipko Movement in Modern India was sown before Independence by Mahatma Gandhi and his concept of non-violent protest, Satyagraha. Post Independence, three key leaders, Dev Suman, Mira Behn and Sarala Behn, settled in the Himalayas. Armed with the Gandhian world view of development based on justice and ecological stability, they worked tirelessly to develop environmental consciousness in the hills of Uttar Pradesh.
They nurtured a new breed of Gandhian activists, amongst whom was Sundarlal Bahuguna. He led one of the earliest spontaneous agitations against indiscriminate felling of trees, and involved thousands of women to protest with him. The women put themselves between the logging contractors and the trees they wanted to fell, and became the first tree hugging environmental activists.
An ancient hill legend explians why Chipko protesters chose to hug trees to stop them from being felled. The story goes that a local Maharajah ordered a part of the forest in his kingdom to be felled for wood to build his new fortress. His decree was opposed by a young girl, Amrita. When his tree cutters arrived, Amrita jumped in front of the trees and hugged them. In some versions of the legend, her efforts paid off and the trees were saved. In other versions, she died hugging the trees she loved.
Faces of the Chipko Movement
The solution of present-day problems lies in the re-establishment of a harmonious relationship between man and nature. To keep this relationship permanent we will have to digest the definition of real development: development is synonymous with culture. When we sublimate nature in a way that we achieve peace, happiness, prosperity and, ultimately, fulfilment along with satisfying our basic needs, we march towards culture.
The Chipko Movement is the sum of many local initiatives. Most of its leaders are village women and men, rather than urban activists. Here are brief profiles of some of the leaders.
Sunderlal Bahuguna, was the architect of the first green-felling ban. His 5000 km trans-Himalayan foot march in 1981-83 is believed to have been crucial in spreading the Chipko message. Bahuguna also coined the Chipko slogan: Ecology is permanent economy.
Another early Chipko activist, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, worked to develop eco-friendly village industries, that made a sustainable use of forest wealth to help locals.
Dhoom Singh Negi and Bachni Devi, along with hundreds of village women were the first `tree huggers. Their slogan caught the world’s attention: 'What do the forests bear? soil, water and pure air!’
The songs of Ghanasyam Raturi, better known as the poet of the Chipko Movement, was successful in mobilizing people across the Himalayas to embrace the Chipko philosophy.
Indu Tikekar, a doctor of philosophy, is known for his spiritual discourses on the unity and oneness of life, and for his efforts to locate the Chipko Movement within this paradigm.
There were two sections within the Chipko Movement. While one section concentrated on protecting existing forests from deforestation, the other group worked towards promoting afforestation and developing sustainable village production systems based on forests and agroforestry. The latter were led by Shri Chand Prasad Bhatt, one of the original organizers. The latter group along with the Ministry of Environment, government of India organized “eco-development” camps for massive tree-planting campaigns, which achieved 85-90% survival rates. They also set up cooperatives to guard local forests, and to organize fodder production at rates that would not harm the trees.
Within the Chipko movement, women joined in land rotation schemes for fodder collection, helped replant degraded land, and established and run nurseries stocked with species they selected.
Chipko movement and the environment
Rural economies in the Himalayas are largely dependant on forests and forest produce. Forests are the source of the villagers’ food, fuel, fodder and non wood forest produce. In the 1970s and 80s, when these forests were felled for timber, villagers were in danger of being deprived of their livelihoods. They also realised that the felling of trees would lead to soil erosion, land slides and other problems. It would also drive away animals who had coexisted with humans for centuries in that region.
- The chipko movement
- “Hug the Trees!”
- The Chipko Movement
- India’s Call to Save Their Forests
- (To read an interview with Sundarlal Bahuguna, go to
`My fight is to save the Himalayas')