The original treehuggers
45 YEARS AGO, in the 1970’s, there was a non-violent grassroots protest movement aimed at the protection and conservation of biodiversity of trees and forests in India, and how more actions needed to be taken to protect nature that supplies local people with clean water and soil.
It created a precedent for nonviolent protest and made the world take notice of non-violent protest. What they did was to simply embrace the trees to stop them from being cut down.
Women of the Chipko Movement embracing trees in Uttrakhand, India.
The Chipko Movement, or Chipko Andolan, began in Uttarakhand, which was then a part of Uttar Pradesh, in the foothills of Himalayas.
The movement gained momentum under the environmental activist Sunderlal Bahuguna.
His slogan “Ecology is permanent economy” drove thousands of men and women to become activists to protect their livelihoods.
Both male and female activists from Uttarakhand played vital roles, including Gaura Devi, Suraksha Devi, Sudesha Devi, Bachni Devi and Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Virushka Devi and others.
Deforestation creates a lack of firewood and fodder as well as water for drinking and irrigation which directly impacts women’s survival.
Today, the Chipko Movement is also seen as an ecofeminism movement, whose struggle still goes on today in India and across the world where women have few land rights despite being the primary farmers, stewards and knowledge holder of the land.
Chipko-type movements date back to 1730 AD when in village Prasanna Khamkar of Rajasthan, 363 Bishnois sacrificed their lives to save Khejri trees.
These movements practice methods of ‘Satyagraha’ – Satyagraha is for holding firmy onto the truth. (Sanskrit: सत्याग्रह; satya: “truth”, āgraha: “insistence” or “holding firmly to”), Someone who practices satyagraha is a satyagrahi.
The term satyagraha was coined and developed by Mahatma Gandhi and greatly influenced Martin Luther King Jr.‘s and James Bevel‘s campaigns during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.
In 1987, the Chipko movement was awarded the Right Livelihood Award “for its dedication to the conservation, restoration and ecologically-sound use of India’s natural resources.”
Chipko treehugging immediately inspired many other eco-groups around the world to use the same techniques. It managed to slow down the rapid deforestation, expose the vested interests, increase social awareness, ecological awareness, and above all, in India, it brought awareness to the mainstream about the issues of tribal and marginalised people.
To the world, it demonstrated the viability of nonviolent people power.