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SESSION 2008-09



MEGHA (75302)



Deforestation is a severe problem in northern India and local people have banded together to prevent
commercial timber harvesting. These people have adopted a unique strategy in recognizing trees as
valuable, living beings. The Chipko movement adherents are known literally as "tree huggers."

The meaning of Chipko, translated in Hindi, literally means "tree-huggers." No one actually
knows when this movement began; however, in the 1970's seemed to be the when the conflict
was heightened most. The British government controlled the northern hill districts of India in
the nineteenth century. During this period (1815-1947), Uttarakhand was divided into two
contiguous but distinct sociopolitical units, the nominally independent chifdom of Tehri
Garhwal and the British administered Kumanun Division. Agriculture dominated both regions
in that "eighty- percent of the total population farmed largely with the help of family labour."
Although caste distinctions have not been stringent, the agrarian structure of Uttarakhand differs
significantly from the adjoining plains.

Historically, the Indian Himalayan region has been under the control of expatriates (particularly Germans)
since 1855 in order to produce lumber for the railroads. The government nationalized one-fifth of the
forest area and enacted legislation," Indian Forest Act of 1878, "regulating peasant access by restricting it
to areas of forest not deemed commercially profitable." Sanctions were enacted on those that breach
those laws. Although most of the bureaucratic structures of the government maintained that
deforestation was specifically deemed for scientific and legal purpose, they paid off forest managers to
excavate entire land areas to be used for commercial expenditures. The proceeds were usually put into
the governmental treasury. Although there is no one particular person that takes credit for starting the
movement, one name that seems to be synonymous
is Sunderial Bbahuguna, the leader. The protestors, consisting of mostly women and their children,
were called on by their leader to form a ban in order to stop the ursuption of trees from the
Uttarakhand. The enduring nature of Chipko has raised several questions. The movement has been
instrumental in the social and ecological disintegration of the hill society and also the ideological
clashes between subcultures of the movement and the redefinition of gender roles.
Environmental awareness increased dramatically in the 1990s in India -- and so did the number of
organized lobbies to champion the cause of a cleaner environment. As a result, New Delhi
introduced legislation aimed at curbing pollution, but the enforcement mechanism has been little.
Multilaternational corporations were affected the most with high costs increasing. As early as August
of 1994, Chipko huggers wanted to stop the construction of the dam at Tehri because the protestors
claim that it will uproot trees and pose a flood threat. Today, most of the state legislators respect the
peasant and their habitants. Nonetheless, to prevent future clearings, the Chipko "tree huggers" are
still very active.
Agriculture to feed the indigenous families of the hills is dependent on dense forest coverage. The
peasants of India's hills depend on the forests for fuel, fodder, agricultural implements, building
timber, medicines and in times of dearth, food. "In the period before state intervention, not only did
the peasantry have full access to the forests, but their strong communal institutions fostered the
prudent utilization for forest produce." Subsistence agriculture provided women the necessary
nutrients needed to feed their families. In most cases, the surplus was used to sell their value added
resources through the market economy. Uttarakhand has moved away from subsistence- oriented
peasant economy to a dependent on outside remittances to live.
According to Gross, India is caught in the vortex of the market economy and faced with
multiple environmental hazards, hill society is today in a state of continuing economic
deterioration." The most affected by the deforestation are the women of the villages.They must travel
long distances to get firewood and fodder. Because of the distances, they often leave much of the
wood behind. In addition, the wood is usually picked over leaving the worse for the women that were
not aggressive enough.
The debate is two-fold. the state and means of survival depend on the Himalayas for this
commercially profitable resources as well as its scientific richness. Most environmentalist in the
Chipko Movement claim that this is a scheme or euphemism for economic exploitation. At a deeper
epistemic level, the language of scientific forestry worked to justify the shift towards commercial
working. By similar act of redefinition -- one that rested on a priori usurpation of legal rights to
ownership by the state -- the customary users of the forest were designated its enemies. Thus the
management profile of each forest division, the so-called working plans, while indicating possible
sources of injury to the forest crop included men of the same category as natural hazards and wild
animals. Recent research by Indian ecologist, ironically enough, commissioned by the Forest
Department, clearly demonstrated the "yawning gulf between the ideology of sustained yield and the
actual operations of timber harvesting, wherein the output of logged material often exceeds the
increment to forest stock."

Commercial timber operations were given a boost when laboratory trials at the Forest Research Institute
showed that the utilization of chir waste (the material after the conversion of logs to railway sleepers)
for paper making was a viable proposition. Selling the waste and utilizing the considerable areas of
chir affected by twist, the Forest Department entered into a contract with a large paper manufacturer,
the Star Paper Mills of Saharanpur. From 1961 to 1981, under the terms of the agreement, the mill buys
waste timber and twisted chir trees at highly subsidized prices. Approximately 15 to 20 thousand tons
of pulpwood were supplied annually to the mill. When further research at the FRI established that ash
and hornbeam could be used for the manufacture of sports goods, the Symonds Company of
Allahabad was granted access to the unexploited broad-leaved forests. During World War I, the
extraction of chir sleepers was high. 400,000 sleepers were exported from Kumaun during 1916-
18. Even more were extracted during World War II. In 1940-41, 440,000 sleepers were
supplied to the railways, mostly of chir pine. The government, in a need to tightened controls, gave
the Forest Department control over the panchayats (forests that are controlled by the villagers).
Under the new mandates, the panchayats could only fell trees marked by the department. Local sale
of slates and resin were allowed only by permission. According to Yugvani in Hindi Weekly from
Dehradum, the villagers could only retain a fixed share (40%) of any royalty on the sale on produce
from their forests. In 1958, a committee was formed to investigate the grievances of the people of
Uttarakhand concerning forest management. In protest, villagers refused, as stated in the Forest Act
mandates, to put out forest fires. It was not until the heavy monsoon of 1970 that precipitated the
turning point in ecological history. According to Bratt, due to the blockage of the Ganga canal, 9.5
million acres of land in eastern Uttar Pradesh went without irrigation. Gram Swarajya Sangh (DGSS),
an organization based in the Chamoli district organized in the mid- 60's, combated obstacles to
maintain their small resin and turpentine unit. The Chipko Movement began in 1973 in the village
of Mandal in the upper Alakananda valley. The DGSS was refused permission to fell ash trees to
be converted into agricultural implements. After DGSS did all they could to protest, a leading
activist, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, suddenly thought of embracing the trees. Women took their children
to the forests and formed a circle around the trees to prevent the slaughtering of trees. The success of
Chipko has saved some 100,000 trees from excavation.

The styles of activism differ. On one hand

- there is a constant flow of articles and materials and on the other hand,
- there is an active fight for the survival of 70-80 percent of saplings.
This survival is credited mostly to the women of the peasant economy. The Chipko
Movement is inimical to gender -- the theoretical underpinnings as well as the political and economic
ones. Women and children gather firewood for domestic consumption. They rely on the forestry for
combustible crop residues such as rice straw. This, however, is considered inferior to fuelwood.
Therefore, forestry activities that increase the availability of fuelwood and development projects that
promote improved stoves both release women's labour from fuel collection and permit its use in other
productive activities, and improve the agricultural environment by permitting crop residues to be better
used for enriching depleted soil. Many women claim that they are not the sole collectors of fuelwood, as
often presumed. However, subsistence agricultural households may be the leading cause of world
deforestation. It is a fact that women in the northern hill area of India such as the Alakananda valley
respond rationally to increased resource scarcity. In a utility maximizing household, agricultural
residues and improved stoves are substitutes for fuelwood in consumption. The household can purchase
or sell fuelwood and food crops in complete and existing competitive markets, but its purchases are
constrained by the sum of household profit from the sale of fuelwood and food crops, plus exogenous
household income from business and service activities. Households may collect fuelwood from
community forests and also from trees and woody plants growing on terrace walls and along the
boundaries of each household's private agricultural lands. This implies that environmental problems are
not just specifically congruent to the poor. Both fuelwood and residues tend to be inferior goods.
Fuelwood is inferior for higher income households where there is a more active and higher priced
fuelwood market. Residues are inferior for the general population. Therefore, environmental studies
should focus on lower class dependence on the forestry as well as including the upper class
dependency. Many "environmentalist" would like to claim that the Chipko movement goes against
ecologically sound policies and are hazardous to the forests. The Chipko women's defense is that
they are truly concerned about the preservation of forest area but on a higher level, it is the
preservation of a little community and its values.
Since the movement affects many boundaries, politicians need to implement a bottom-up
approach. For Bahuguna, shortsighted forest management is a symptom of a deeper malaise, the
anthropocentric view of nature intrinsic to modern industrial civilization. He claims man is the "butcher
of Earth." Buhuguna's group is very active in the Bhageerathi valley. He works on what they call a
prophetic mode: attempting to convert the uninitiated. He asserts that modern science an technology
are largely informed by Christian ideals of human transcendence and rightful mastery over nature. He
views do not coincide with Western beliefs.
Bhatt, on the other hand, is different from Bahuguna in that he believes that the villagers
play a distinctive role in deforestation. This has been a result of "separating the local population from
the management from the forest wealth." He claims that the schemes proposed by the urban-centered
technocrats have little relevance to the realities of rural India. Bhatt exemplifies a grassroots campaign.
Besides afforestation camps conducted annually, they are also working on the installation of bio-gas
plants and energy saving devices that help the underprivileged. His movement has proven to be the
most successful. The rate of survival of saplings (65 to 80 per cent) the survival rate achieved in
government plantations (around 10 to 15 per cent) is embarrassing. The financial backing of the
latter far exceed the former. The lack of sensitivity within the government and unformulated plans that
do not include rural areas and women specific environmental projects results in failed schemes.
A third group, the Uttarakahand Sangharsh Vahini (USV) active in Kumaun, ideology
strongly resembles Marxist theories. Because this movement refuses to associate itself with the state-
sponsored development programs, they have many heated confrontations with the administration.
Ironically, the USV also disassociates itself with the other two movements. Perhaps it can be explained
that this movement prescribes to the school of thought that the human- nature relationship must not be
viewed in isolation from existing relationships among humans. Ecological harmony is second to the
redistribution of economic and social avenues for the UVA. Unlike the movement of Bahuguna and
Bhatt, UVA believes in violent uprisings. USV prefers social movements that conform the state.
They claim that the state has a moral responsibility for the welfare of its citizens. Capitalist penetration
(trade) and environmental policies (degradation) should be fixed by the state and not by grassroots
reconstruction work of afforestation (Bhatt). Reddy, A.K.N., emphasized the technology is alleviate
the dichotomy between the trade and the environment. He says that "technologies that are employment-
generating; economically sound; that promote self-reliance (both in terms of invoking mass
participation and using local resources; that tend to reduce rather than reinforce inequalities; and that
build upon, rather than neglect, traditional skills." 3.

The Chipko people believed that the trees were living and breathing carbon dioxide, the same as they
were. In essence, the trees should be respected. The extensive forests were central to the successful
practice of agriculture and animal husbandry. In addition, medicinal herbs were used for healing
powers. The hill people believed that the jungle of fruit, vegetables or roots was used as aids in the
times of scarcity. The dependence of the hill peasant on forest resources was institutionalized through a
variety of social and cultural mechanisms.
Through religion, folklore and oral tradition, the forests were protected by rings of love.
Hilltops were dedicated to local deities and the trees around the spot regarded with great respect. Many
wooded areas were not of spontaneous growth and bore marks of the hill folk’s instinct for the
plantation and preservation of the forest; indeed the "spacious wooded areas extending over the
mountain ranges and hill sides testimony to the care bestowed upon them by the successive
generations of the Kumaunies." Particularly in eastern Kumaun and around temples, deodar plantations
were preserved. Hindus consider this magnificent tree superior to most trees. In such sacred groves,
the traditonal form of forest preservation, and one found all over India, no villager would injure the
vegetation in any way.
In parts of Tehri, leaves are offered to the goddess known as Patna Devi. This is only one
example of the Hindu's fascination of vegetation association with gods. According to one elder man, in
the Ton's valley, urbers and roots the peasantry's food during times of scarcity are used only during
culturally specified times to inhibit overexploitation. Although the sacredness exemplified in the
preservation of the forest, it was also the informal management practices regulated the utilization of
forest produce by the community. 26.

Cultural relativism is a term is defined as the position according to which local cultural traditions
(including religious, political and legal practices) determine the the scope of political and civil rights
enjoyed by people of a given community. Relativists claim that substantive human rights standards
vary among different cultures and necessarily reflect national idiosyncrasies. What may be seen as a
human rights violation in one country, may be seen as a natural course of action in another country.
The Chipko people feverently believe that the "tree-huging," and putting rakhis around the trees are
based on cultural traditions. The evacuation of the trees are seen as violations of socioeconomic rights--
second generation rights. This is seen as a direct violation of customary international law or the
sovereign borders of the indigeous sector.


From their origins as a spontaneous protest against logging abuses in Uttar Pradesh in the Himalayas,
supporters of the Chipko movement, mainly village women, have successfully banned the felling of trees
in a number of regions and influenced natural resource policy in India. Dhoom Singh Negi, Bachni Devi
and many other village women, were the first to save trees by hugging them. They coined the slogan:
'What do the forests bear? Soil, water and pure air'. The success of the Chipko movement in the hills
saved thousands of trees from being felled.
Some other persons have also been involved in this movement and have given it proper direction. Mr
Sunderlal Bahuguna, a Gandhian activist and philosopher, whose appeal to Mrs Indira Gandhi, the then
Prime Minister of India, resulted in the green-felling ban. Mr Bahuguna coined the Chipko slogan:
'ecology is permanent economy'. Mr Chandi Prasad Bhatt, is another leader of the Chipko movement. He
encouraged the development of local industries based on the conservation and sustainable use of forest
wealth for local benefit. Mr Ghanasyam Raturi, the Chipko poet, whose songs echo throughout the

• Agarwal, Anil, "Human-nature interactions in a Third World country" Fifth World Conservation
Lecture, The Environmentalist
• Guha, Ramachandra. "The Malign Encounter: The Chipko Movement and Competing Visions
of Nature." United Nations University/World Institute for Development Economics.
• Guha, Ramachandra. "Ecological Roots of Development Crisis" EPW, 1986.
• Joshi, Gopa "Men propose women dispose" "Indian Express, 14 January 1982.