Chipko Movement | Indian History | Free PDF Download
Inspired by Jayaprakash Narayan and the Sarvodaya movement, In the year 1964 Dasholi Gram Swarajya Sangh (DGSS) , was set up by Gandhian social worker Chandi Prasad Bhatt in Gopeshwar, with an aim to set up small industries using the resources of the forest.
Their first project was a small workshop making farm tools for local use. Here they had to face restrictive forest policies, On the other hand, the hill regions saw an influx of more people from the outside, which only added to the already strained ecological balance.
Hastened by increasing hardships, the Garhwal Himalayas soon became the centre for a rising ecological awareness of how reckless deforestation had denuded much of the forest cover, resulting in the devastating Alaknanda River floods of July 1970. when a major landslide blocked the river .
Thereafter, incidences of landslides and land subsidence became common in an area which was experiencing a rapid increase in civil engineering projects
Soon villagers and women, began to organize themselves under several smaller groups, taking up local causes with the authorities, and standing up against commercial logging operations that threatened their livelihoods.
In October 1971, the Sangha workers held a demonstration in Gopeshwar to protest against the policies of the Forest Department. More rallies and marches were held in late 1972, but to little effect, until a decision to take direct action was taken.
The government’s forest policy, which the villagers saw as unfavorable towards them. The Sangh also decided to resort to tree-hugging, or Chipko, as a means of non-violent protest.
The final flash point began , when the government announced an auction scheduled in January 1974, for 2,500 trees near Reni village, overlooking the Alaknanda River.
Gaura Devi led 27 of the village women to the site and confronted the loggers. When all talking failed, and the loggers started to shout and abuse the women, threatening them with guns, the women resorted to hugging the trees to stop them from being felled.
This went on into late hours. The women kept an all-night vigil guarding their trees from the cutters until a few of them relented and left the village.
The next day, when the men and leaders returned, the news of the movement spread to the neighbouring Laata and others villages including Henwalghati, and more people joined in. Eventually, only after a four-day stand-off, the contractors left.
The news soon reached the state capital, where the then state Chief Minister, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, set up a committee to look into the matter, which eventually ruled in favour of the villagers. This became a turning point in the history of eco-development struggles in the region and around the world.
The struggle soon spread across many parts of the region, and such spontaneous stand-offs between the local community and timber merchants occurred at several locations, with hill women demonstrating their new-found power as non-violent activists.
As the movement gathered shape under its leaders, the name Chipko movement was attached to their activities.
Over the next five years, the movement spread to many districts in the region, and within a decade throughout the Uttarakhand Himalayas.
They wanted the government to provide low-cost materials to small industries and ensure development of the region without disturbing the ecological balance.
Women’s participation in the Chipko agitation was a very novel aspect of the movement. The movement achieved a victory when the government issued a ban on felling of trees in the Himalayan regions for fifteen years in 1980 by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, until the green cover was fully restored.
Gradually, women set up cooperatives to guard local forests, and also organized fodder production at rates conducive to local environment.
Next, they joined in land rotation schemes for fodder collection, helped replant degraded land, and established and ran nurseries stocked with species they selected
One of Chipko’s most salient features was the mass participation of female villagers. As the backbone of Uttarakhand’s Agrarian economy, women were most directly affected by environmental degradation and deforestation.
Despite this, both female and male activists did play pivotal roles in the movement including Gaura Devi, Sudesha Devi, Bachni Devi, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Sundarlal Bahuguna, Govind Singh Rawat, Dhoom Singh Neji, Shamsher Singh Bisht and Ghanasyam Raturi, the Chipko poet, whose songs are still popular in the Himalayan region.
Out of which, Chandi Prasad Bhatt was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1982, and Sundarlal Bahuguna was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2009.
In 1960, he suffered a heart attack. He was treated by top doctors in India, including his friend Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal.
His health started deteriorating and he died on 7 March 1961 at the age of 74, from a cerebral stroke. At that time he was still in office as the Home Minister of India.