Chipko movement: “A people’s revolt against mindless deforestation” inspired by Gandhi – India’s 10 most powerful movements

“Air is free to all but if it is polluted it harms our health… Next comes water… From now on we must take up the effort to secure water. Councillors are servants of the people and we have a right to question them.” – Mohandas K. Gandhi, Ahmedabad address on 1 January 1918; quoted by his grandson, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, in On another New Year’s Day: Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘khorak’ a 100 years ago | Learn more >>

Saving the forests of Garhwal by sticking to trees. Fighting a big dam by living in submerged waters. These movements redefined the greening of India.

STICKING TO A CAUSE
Chipko Movement, 1973

“In the wake of reckless deforestation, a unique movement has bubbled,” observed India Today in March 1982. The 1980s saw the debate on environment move from just deforestation to the larger issues of depletion of natural resources.“

Chipko movement in the Garhwal Himalayas, shoved aside urban armchair naturalists.

Led by Chandni Prasad Bhatt and Sunderlal Bahuguna, it was a people’s revolt against mindless deforestation.

And they did it simply. By hugging trees when the woodmen came to axe them,”said India Today in January 1990.

Source: “10 most powerful movements” by Purvi Malhotra (India Today, 19 December 2008)
URL: https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/environment/story/20081229-10-most-powerful-movements-738539-2008-12-19
Date Visited: 31 May 2021

With the passing of Sunderlal Bahuguna on May 21, the great social activist who added the “Chipko Movement” to the glossary of environmentalists worldwide, COVID has found one of its most illustrious victims. Bahuguna was hospitalized on May 8 after testing positive for the coronavirus and breathed his last nearly two weeks later, dying from complications arising from COVID. His death is rightly being mourned as a monumental loss to the Indian environmental movement. He was also, however, one of the last great witnesses to the Gandhi era—that is a loss which is almost inestimable. […]

“What do the forests bear? Soil, water and pure air.” The women of the Chipko movement, founded by Chandi Prasad Bhatt but most closely associated with the name of Bahuguna, coined this slogan. Bahuguna’s life of activism did not, however, commence with the Chipko movement. Inspired by Gandhi, Bahuguna, after flirting with Congress party politics, had in his 20s taken up anti-untouchability work and he also closely worked with village women to create an anti-liquor drive in the hills. The other slogan that would grow out of the Chipko movement, “ecology is permanent economy”, was Bahuguna’s own distinct contribution. The Chipko movement has most often been understood as an attempt, in which village women played the critical role, to prevent contractors—most of them coming from the plains—from cutting down trees for the lumber industry. They would hug the trees: thus the word ‘chipko’, ‘to hug’.

Bahuguna, perhaps more so than any of the other major environmental activists from recent decades, remained extremely close in spirit to the life and teachings of Gandhi. This is not only evident from his exceedingly spartan lifestyle, but from his ease of communication with people from all walks of life and his keen awareness that a nonviolent activist must also seek to engage with a wider public and sway the court of public opinion. At the same time, he had also absorbed enough of Gandhi’s teachings to embrace the view that the social activist must continue to labor without any regard for recognition. Though Bahuguna remained active to the end of his life, and in more recent years had become an outspoken advocate on behalf of young campaigners for climate change, there were unquestionably long periods of time during which he seemed to disappear from the public gaze. […]

What an indictment of our society that our last vision of this giant of the mountains, a man who befriended oxygen-emanating trees, should be of someone strapped to a CPAP machine, gasping for oxygen.

Source: Vinay Lal (Professor of History & Asian American Studies, University of California, Los Angeles UCLA) in “Gasping for Oxygen: Homage to Sunderlal Bahuguna, 1927-2021”
URL: https://vinaylal.wordpress.com/2021/05/30/gasping-for-oxygen-homage-to-sunderlal-bahuguna-1927-2021/
Date Visited: 31 May 2021

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

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