In light of the recent disaster in Uttarakhand, it’s important to remember the importance of the peaceful environmental protest known as tree hugging. This movement, known as the Chipko movement or Chipko Andolan, has its roots in the Garhwal region.
The movement began in the early 1970s as village women realised that something had to be done to stop the rapid deforestation of the area. By hugging the trees to prevent them from being cut down, the women were asserting their traditional rights to the forest and protesting the commercial logging operations that jeopardised their livelihoods. The deforestation not only decreased the villagers’ firewood and fodder, it also damaged the soil and destroyed the water sources in the hills. The movement spread across the region and soon more women began to protect trees from the timber merchants. By the 1980s, it became the inspiration for non-violent environmental protests worldwide, such as tree sitting and tree villages. In addition to being one of the first environmental protests in the developing world, Chipko demonstrated the clout of people power. Chipko also made it clear that fighting to preserve the eco-system was not restricted to the rich and famous. In fact, in this case, protecting the environment is literally a matter of life and death for the villagers and the poor because they are usually the first victims of a natural disaster. Chipko, by the way, means “to stick” in Hindi.
While many of the leaders of the movement were men, the true warriors were women like Gaura Devi. She refused to back down, even going so far as to stand in front of a man holding a gun and telling him, “This forest nurtures us like a mother; you will only be able to use your axes on it if you shoot me first.” She died peacefully in 1991 and stories of her bravery are still told. There is now a Gaura Devi Award for environment protection, as well as a campaign to posthumously award her the Bharat Ratna.
The ground realities today
Unfortunately, the victories of the Chipko movement seem to have been short-lived. Villagers have laboured to re-grow forests and continued to protest against the unplanned development in the region, but their efforts have been in vain. Meanwhile, environmental experts continue to sound the warning that deforestation and construction damage the soil’s ability to hold water, resulting in the devastating landslides seen in June. They maintain that development in the region must respect the terrain and the fragility of the Himalayas. It may seem odd to think of a mountain range as being unstable, but the Himalayas are the result of the collision between two plates and this process continues today.
How you can help
If you’d like to help Uttarakhand rebuild from the damage wrought by the rains and floods of June, there are two organisations we endorse – Goonj (http://goonj.org/) and Save the Children (http://www.savethechildren.in/). Both have worked tirelessly to assist the villagers to get back on their feet.
Still a haven
In the meantime, we’re grateful that Himalayan Hideaway and the area around it were spared the devastation of June. If you’re looking for a getaway in Uttarakhand, our lodge is the perfect place to breathe clean air, bird watch and take in stunning landscapes. Our Delhi office (Phone: +91-11-26852602, 26968169, and e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com) will be happy to assist you in making the arrangements.
Tags: Himalayan Hideaway, Himalayas, Uttarakhand, Chipko, Gaura Devi, ecology, environment, people power, disaster relief