DMPQ- How does the Chipko movement emerge as a peasant and women’s movement for forest rights

Chipko movement, also called Chipko andolan, nonviolent social and ecological movement by rural villagers, particularly women, in India in the 1970s, aimed at protecting trees and forests slated for government-backed logging. The movement originated in the Himalayan region of Uttar Pradesh (later Uttarakhand) in 1973 and quickly spread throughout the Indian Himalayas. The Hindi word chipko means “to hug” or “to cling to” and reflects the demonstrators’ primary tactic of embracing the trees to impede the loggers.

With the conclusion of the Sino-Indian border conflict in 1963, the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh experienced a growth in development, especially in the rural Himalayan regions. The interior roads built for the conflict attracted many foreign-based logging companies that sought access to the region’s vast forest resources. Although the rural villagers depended heavily on the forests for subsistence—both directly, for food and fuel, and indirectly, for services such as water purification and soil stabilization—government policy prevented the villagers from managing the lands and denied them access to the lumber. Many of the commercial logging endeavours were mismanaged, and the clearcut forests led to lower agricultural yields, erosion, depleted water resources, and increased flooding throughout much of the surrounding areas.

In 1964 environmentalist and Gandhian social activist Chandi Prasad Bhatt founded a cooperative organization, Dasholi Gram Swarajya Sangh (later renamed Dasholi Gram Swarajya Mandal [DGSM]), to foster small industries for rural villagers, using local resources. With the success in Mandal, DGSM workers and Sunderlal Bahuguna, a local environmentalist, began to share Chipko’s tactics with people in other villages throughout the region. One of the next major protests occurred in 1974 near the village of Reni, where more than 2,000 trees were scheduled to be felled. Following a large student-led demonstration, the government summoned the men of the surrounding villages to a nearby city for compensation, ostensibly to allow the loggers to proceed without confrontation. However, they were met with the women of the village, led by Gaura Devi, who refused to move out of the forest and eventually forced the loggers to withdraw. The action in Reni prompted the state government to establish a committee to investigate deforestation in the Alaknanda valley and ultimately led to a 10-year ban on commercial logging in the area.

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