History of Chipko Movement

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History of the Chipko Movement

The first ‘Forest Act’ in India was enacted in 1927. Many provisions of that Act were inimical to the interests of the tribal and the common folk living in the forests. A big rally was held to protest against such issues at Tilari in 1930. The rally ended with the murder of 17 commoners by the Royal army. In 1949, the Tehri Garhwal region constituting part of Uttar Pradesh was annexed to the Indian federation. In remembrance of the 17 martyrs, May 30 is observed as the ‘Forest Day’ every year. The protests raised in 1930 gradually developed into a strong movement during the early 1970s. This movement came to be known as the ‘Chipko Movement’. The word ‘Chipko’ means ’embracing’.

In 1961, Sarala Behn, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, took the initiative in forming the ‘Uttarakhand Sarbodaya Mondal’. People participating in constructive social work were getting involved in the struggle for protection of forests. On May 30, 1968 a large number of tribal men and women joined the Chipko struggle. They resisted the affluent contractors and the industrialists in their act of plundering the forests. Historic marches against the indiscriminate looting of forests were organized in Uttarkashi and Gopeswar on December 12 and 15 in 1972. In April 1973, when there was an attempt to fell the trees on a dark night, the tribal women resisted by embracing the trees like their own children. Women spent sleepless nights in guarding the trees. Some notable names of those who led the movement include, Sarala Behn, Mira Behn, Gopeswar, Sundarlal Bahuguna and Chandi Prasad Bhatt. In March 1974, 27 tribal women under the leadership of Gouri Devi guarded the trees for many nights at a stretch. The important call that the struggle raised was that the original species-diversity of the forests must be left undisturbed; women must have the right to collect fodder and fuel-wood from the forests. It is so gratifying to note that it was the so-called illiterate tribal women who first came forward to demand the conservation of the environment. They did not demand the forests, but only urged for the natural growth and conservation of the forest resources.

It was in 1977 that some forests in the tribal areas of Narendranagar were put on auction for sale. The conservationists protested strongly. The women came forward to join the protests. Leadership came from Bachhni Devi, – the wife of a contractor. Trees were being guarded day and night by rotation. An unusually popular slogan was coined: ‘What do the forests bear? Soil, water and pure air’.

On 1st February 1978, the contractor who bought the forest on auction came forward with two contingents of armed police to take up possession. The poor tribal were allured and tempted in various ways. Nevertheless, each tree was being guarded by a set of three women clinging to it. The contractor and the armed police were forced to retreat.

The assaults, however, continued and in fact were getting intensified. Sundarlal Bahuguna joined the fasting. Bahuguna was arrested on the eleventh day. Thousands of people rushed in on getting the news. The police force was compelled to retreat.

In conclusion, it is necessary to spell out, what precisely the Chipko Movement demanded? Are the forests to be left just as they are? No, the forests must not be seen only as places for plundering the natural resources. Just as forests offer teak and lac, the vegetation need to be conserved for the sake of water, soil and air. The movement only demanded the exercise of a sense of rationality in making use of the forests.

The intensity of the Chipko Movement drew the attention of the Central Government. The Prime Minister of India observed, ‘not a single tree in the Himalayan ranges in Uttar Pradesh should be touched for the next fifteen yeas’. The message of this movement spread out from the Himalayan forests in Uttar Pradesh to the rest of the world. The ‘Appico’ movement in south India drew its inspiration from the ‘Chipko’ movement.

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