Chipko: A People's Movement

The Ancient Legend In India there is an ancient legend about a girl, Amrita Devi, who died trying to protect the trees that surrounded her village. The story recounts a time when the local Maharajah's tree cutters arrived to cut the villager's trees for wood for his new fortress. Amrita, with others, jumped in front of the trees and hugged them. In some versions of the tale their dramatic efforts prevented the forest's destruction; in others Amrita dies in her valiant attempt.

The Hills were being Stripped

 

It is this tale that inspired the actions of a group of mostly rural women who in the 1970s launched similar spectacular protest movements in India. For rural women, saving the environment is crucial to their economic survival. As primary food, fuel, and water gatherers, women have strong interests in reversing deforestation, desertification, and water pollution. The women, who eke out a living in the Himalayan foothills, using its forests as sources of food, fuel, and forage for their animals, face a particularly severe challenge. The Himalayas, a young range subject to erosion, need forests on these steep slopes to allow the absorption of water and prevent flooding. Disintegration of Himalayan forests started over a century ago. In the 1960s, India's push for national economic development cleared even more trees to export the wood to earn foreign exchange. The hill soil washed away, causing landslides, floods and silting in the rivers below the hills. Crops and houses too were destroyed, and women had to trudge further and further for their fuel, fodder and water. All in all, it was the women who were the main victims of India's deforestation policies.

(In the image: Women in the Chipko Movement in India discussing deforestation In the 1980s the ideas of the Chipko movement spread, often by women talking about them at water places, on village paths, and in markets. Women decided they were not powerless; there were actions they could take and a movement which would support them. Songs and slogans were created. )

Forestry is not about trees. It is about people

"Embrace the trees and Save them from being felled;

The property of our hills,

Save them from being looted."

"A wise person once said that forestry is not about trees. It is about people. No one has realized this more than the women of the Uttarakhand region. Everyone by now knows about the Chipko Movement. But not many know about the women of the Uttarakhand region who have made it their lifetime mission to leave undestroyed forests for their children and grandchildren... One woman whom future generations in Uttarakhand are not likely to forget is Gaura Devi who has mobilized the women of this region to protect their natural heritage."

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