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Year : 2022  |  Volume : 20  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 47-53

The Chipko Movement: A People's History

1 Institute of Technology (Gandhinagar), India
2 University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
3 Ashoka University, Sonipat, India
4 Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, India
5 Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi, Delhi, India

Correspondence Address:
Ambika Aiyadurai
Institute of Technology (Gandhinagar)
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cs.cs_150_21

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Date of Web Publication04-Feb-2022

How to cite this article:
Aiyadurai A, Rangan H, Baviskar A, Narain S, Pande V. The Chipko Movement: A People's History. Conservat Soc 2022;20:47-53

How to cite this URL:
Aiyadurai A, Rangan H, Baviskar A, Narain S, Pande V. The Chipko Movement: A People's History. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Jun 6];20:47-53. Available from: https://www.conservationandsociety.org.in//text.asp?2022/20/1/47/337337

Pathak, S. The Chipko Movement: A People's History. (Translated from Hindi by Manisha Chaudhary). Permanent Black, New Delhi. 2021. (pp. 390). Hardback (ISBN 817-8-2455-58) ₹ 895.

Introduction by Ambika Aiyadurai, Indian Institute of Technology (Gandhinagar), India. E-mail: [email protected]

When Shekhar Pathak's The Chipko Movement: A People's History was published, the book attracted attention for several reasons. The central reason lies in its criticism of the popular representation of the Chipko movement as a sensational environmental trope. Instead of focusing excessively on the environmentalist approach of the two major leaders of Chipko, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, and Sunderlal Bahuguna, which the movement has always been known for, the book brings to light the motivations and sacrifices of ordinary village men and women involved in the ecologically and culturally embedded movement. The Chipko Movement: A People's History offers a fresh perspective giving it a comprehensive historical context, making it a crucial text with rich archival, oral histories with profound depth. In many ways, this book stands out distinctly, among many other literatures that have emerged from the Chipko movement. The focus on people involved in the movement, those who actually shaped it, the men, women and children, is the prime factor highlighted making the book a 'people's history of Chipko'. We therefore requested scholars from various fields engaged in environmental issues to provide their views on Shekhar Pathak's book. We approached them for their engagement in the issues of people's movements in securing forests, livelihoods and their social identities. Amita Baviskar focuses on the role of social inequality and identities in natural resource conflicts, and is known for her work on the Narmada valley and people's movements against the Sardar Sarovar dam. Vasudha Pande's interest lies in studying the anthropogenic landscape of the central Himalayas and the grassroots activities of various communities in Uttarakhand. Sunita Narain is currently the Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), and a powerful voice in support of social and ecological justice. Haripriya Rangan at the University of Melbourne has worked in the Garhwal Himalayas tracking issues of environment, development and social demonstrations that led to the separate state of Uttarakhand.

   Seeing forests for people Top

Review by Haripriya Rangan, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

In an age when university academics are expected to prove their worth by churning out voluminous quantities of 'innovative’ research at great speed, there is nothing more rewarding than reading a book which has emerged from over five decades of careful scholarship based on activism, reflection, and critical analysis. Shekhar Pathak has written what is undoubtedly the finest history so far about the Chipko movement, and it will remain the touchstone for future scholarly work on social movements in India. He provides us a vivid account of this extraordinary people's movement by drawing together archived and oral histories, correspondence and interviews, geological and ecological realities, and geo-social imaginations of people in the Garhwal and Kumaon Himalayas.

The book begins by inviting the reader to recognise the geographical significance of Chipko's 'homeland', the mountainous terrains of Garhwal and Kumaon extending from the inner Himalayan areas bordering Tibet and Nepal to the north and east down to the foothills and sub-Himalayan tracts bordering the vast plains of the Yamuna and Ganga rivers and their tributaries. These are now part of Uttarakhand, a state created in the year 2000 after five decades of grassroots mobilisation demanding autonomy from the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). Both the Chipko movement and the struggle for statehood stemmed from the socio-economic marginalisation experienced by people due to rampant resource exploitation and ecological degradation in these regions from the time of British colonial rule well into the decades following independence when Garhwal and Kumaon came under the UP state administration. Successive UP governments whose electoral and political-economic power lay in the populous Gangetic plains routinely ignored the concerns raised by local activists and village communities in Garhwal and Kumaon regarding the socio-economic inequities and ecologically damaging effects of resource exploitation by state agencies and allied private business interests.

Pathak highlights how the mountain communities of Uttarakhand are fully alive to the beauty and fragility of the region's geology and ecology. From the knowledge passed on by ancestors through millennia and their lived experience, they have a palpable sensibility of mountains as animate beings imbued with enormous energy and complex emotions. They know the bountiful generosity and dangers which ensue when the Indian Ocean rises each year to embrace the voluptuous contours of the Himalayas—of the monsoons that erupt from this grand planetary coupling to swell the rivers and streams which renew life as well as trigger landslides and floods that destroy life. They know first-hand of the damage when the mountains quake and break apart as they rise towards the sky. They know the different kinds of trees and vegetation which protect the mountain slopes and valleys and enable the diversity of life to thrive and flourish. It is this acute knowledge and sensibility that provides the impetus for the people's histories and mobilisations through the course of the book.

In setting the context for Chipko's emergence, Pathak goes back to the period between the mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries when British East India Company (EIC) functionaries made numerous excursions in the region looking for valuable resources to exploit for profitable trade. After wresting Garhwal and Kumaon from Nepal's Gurkha rulers in 1815, the EIC concentrated its efforts on gaining control over the region's forest resources and Trans-Himalayan trade networks into Central Asia. By the end of the nineteenth century, British colonial rule had undermined all forms of local economic activity, self-reliance, and regional trade. The rich forests of the region were brought under British control to provide commercial advantage to colonial agents for the exploitation of timber, resin, wild animals, and other commercially valuable plants. The so-called scientific forestry established by the colonial administration was less about science and more about maximising revenue from large-scale timber exploitation to further British mercantile and industrial interests. From the late nineteenth century until independence from British rule in 1947, systematic enclosure through boundary establishment and forest classification restricted local communities from entering vast tracts demarcated as 'Reserved Forests'. Communities were forced to contribute unpaid labour—referred to as Kuli Begaar—for the upkeep of Reserved Forest areas expropriated for exploitation by the colonial forest department. These repressive actions provoked widespread discontent among the village communities of Garhwal and Kumaon and resulted in numerous protests and resistance against the colonial administration.

Pathak introduces the different actors within Garhwal and Kumaon who were involved in mobilising resistance against the forestry department both prior to and after independence. The UP State Forest Department continued to function according to colonial principles in the region, imposing strict restrictions on access to forest resources for local communities. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Gandhian Sarvodaya workers and Communist Party of India (CPI) activists from Garhwal and Kumaon called on the UP state government to end the forest department's exploitative and ecologically damaging contracting system. This system operated on the basis of annual auctions held by the department for timber extraction from demarcated tracts within Reserved Forests. The department neither allotted timber and other forest resources to local households and cottage industries for their production needs, nor offer people from village communities any opportunities for formal employment. The contractors who won the bids were usually from cities in the plains and brought their labourers from outside the region. Trees were felled without any concern for the fragile geology of the mountain slopes and river catchments. This led to significant erosion and degradation in the exploited tracts, which resulted in landslides and flooding during annual monsoons and caused severe damage to adjacent homes, fields, and crops.

The continued indifference of the UP government towards the plight of village communities led the Sarvodaya workers and CPI activists to protest at the annual auctions and regional offices of the UP Forest Department. They mobilised communities to take non-violent action and occupy state forests during the felling season. Their leaders put forward demands for an autonomous Uttarakhand state and outlined their vision for the region's development, including greater local control and management of forests; protection of slopes and river catchments to reduce the damaging effects of floods and landslides during monsoons; and the promotion of forest-based cottage industries which would benefit the region's communities.

Pathak describes how mobilisation rapidly expanded during the 1970s as students, women, artisans, tradespeople, Dalit groups, and upper-caste leaders from villages and towns in Garhwal and Kumaon rallied together around the slogan of van jaage, vanvasi jaage (forests awake, forest people awake!). They joined the Sarvodaya workers and CPI activists in protests at forest auctions and blockades at timber-felling sites and participated in long marches across Uttarakhand for raising awareness among mountain communities regarding the ecological impacts of the forest contracting system and the apathy of the UP administration towards their needs. People from villages and local activists stood guard at the entry points to the sites and circled the trees marked for felling to prevent labourers from cutting them down. Pathak powerfully conveys the essence of Chipko as a broad-based, non-violent people's movement in the events leading up to the forest blockade in 1973 by the women and children of Reni village in Garhwal. This was the blockade which attracted national and international attention and generated numerous stories and interpretations of Chipko. In a few moving paragraphs, he highlights how the calm and dignified actions of the women who successfully prevented contracted labourers from entering the felling site vindicated all the hard years of grounded social work and political mobilisation by Gandhian workers and CPI activists. He reflects that the village women who knew neither Gandhian nor Marxist philosophy finished the spadework begun by these activists: “The promises that these leaders had made remained promises until fulfilled by … the unprecedented and momentous action by ordinary village women” (p. 132).

The rest of the book provides a fascinating analysis of the Chipko movement as the forest struggles unite diverse groups and provide further impetus for demanding regional autonomy and the creation of a new state of Uttarakhand. Pathak describes the different perspectives among the Gandhian workers regarding the protection of fragile and unstable mountain slopes and catchments, the development of local forest-based small industry cooperatives, and the relative successes and failures of Chipko's spokespersons to influence national-level policies on forest exploitation and protection in the Himalayas. He concludes by reflecting on the ways in which Chipko lives on in various forms in Uttarakhand: the newspapers founded by the movement's activists during the 1970s; community initiatives for reforestation; movements to protect local crop and seed varieties; struggles against the appropriation of oak forests and highland pastures, and dam-building; and organisations such as the Himalayan Action Research Centre and People's Action for Himalayan Area Research.

Although Pathak's focus is on the Chipko movement and its legacy, it is necessary to recognise its historical importance alongside the Silent Valley movement in the southwestern state of Kerala which also emerged during the 1970s. Both were people's movements which drew attention to the damaging ecological and social consequences of maintaining colonial forestry systems in the name of national economic development in post-independence India. They brought a new awareness among India's urban middle classes of the exploitation and injustices borne by Adivasi, tribal, Dalit, and poor rural and forest communities that depended on and safeguarded much of India's ecologically diverse regions. Both played a crucial part in forcing national politics and policymakers to address the environmental impacts of development.

Today, at a time when the farmers’ movement in India is challenging the country's governing political party for imposing laws favouring large corporate agribusiness, Shekhar Pathak's book on the Chipko movement provides invaluable insights on what broad-based social movements need to be aware of when they confront the Indian state and its allied corporate interests. It has the potential to inspire new alliances between the farmers’ struggles and the many different groups involved in ecological regeneration, protection of forest people's rights, occupations, and natural and environmental justice in urban and rural India.

   A Himalayan Chronicling of a Social Movement Top

Review by Amita Baviskar, Ashoka University, Sonipat, Haryana, India

As a watershed moment in environmental politics in India, the Chipko movement has been closely studied and variously interpreted. To an international audience, Chipko is famous as the story of heroic hill women hugging trees, expressing an innate kinship between their gender, stree (woman) and prakriti (nature). This notion of a natural affinity based on a shared feminine principle was popularised by Vandana Shiva in her book Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development (1988), sparking off a lively debate on essentialism in ecofeminism. The question of the ideological and material bases of the Chipko movement received a different answer in Ramachandra Guha's The Unquiet Woods: Ecological Change and Peasant Resistance in the Himalaya (1989) which situated the protests in a larger landscape of colonial rule. Drawing on archival sources, Guha showed how the mixed deciduous forests vital for local livelihoods had been alienated by the British government and replaced by commercial plantations of tropical pine. Chipko was thus a response by small farmers in the hills to hold on to their primary means of subsistence in the face of a developmentalist state that continued to cling to colonial policies even after Independence. Influenced by the Subaltern School of historiography, with its attention to the subjective meanings that shaped actors’ understanding of their lives, Guha argued that while Chipko activists asserted local control over forests, it was not an 'environmental’ movement in the sense of seeking sustainability for its own sake, but was an assertion of smallholder production over state extraction. Later still, Haripriya Rangan argued that collective action in the hills should be understood as a quest for regional autonomy. Her book Of Myths and Movements: Rewriting Chipko into Himalayan History (2000) located Chipko within a trend towards democratic decentralisation, where a long-standing pahaadi (hill people) identity was central to the demand for independent statehood. While the formation of the state of Uttarakhand in 2000 bears out Rangan's analysis, it does not negate the longer-term structural causes of discontent that Guha compellingly discussed, nor their constitutive role in shaping pahaadi identity. Indeed, conflicts around natural resources remain central to politics in Uttarakhand and to the issue of meeting the developmental aspirations of its population.

To the rich literature on Chipko is now added Shekhar Pathak's The Chipko Movement: A People's History, a translation of his Hindi opus Hari Bhari Ummeed (2019). If the writers discussed above were keen to relate Chipko to larger scholarly questions and grander theories of social change, Pathak is equally committed to understanding the movement in its particularity, its rootedness in a place and its people. His approach is a valuable corrective to current academic work that often achieves theoretical sophistication at the cost of ethnographic richness. Pathak's strategy of portraying the granular texture of grounded struggle is remarkable not only for being path breaking—no other work of environmental history in India has such illuminating detail—but for using such detail to compelling effect. By doing so, he reminds us that, at the end of the day, this is how history is made: by ordinary people working concertedly to change the world. Tracing such a making of history in the official archives would have been impossible, given the bureaucratic bias towards seeing popular protests only as 'law and order problems'. Pathak has bypassed this methodological obstacle by going directly to the source: travelling to each village involved in the Chipko andolan (movement), interviewing activists, consulting local newspaper archives and collections of private correspondence, as well as drawing on the ephemeral literature of pamphlets, manifestos, petitions and press statements that flutter in a movement's wake. Decades in the making, the monumental research that has informed this book is a staggering tour de force.

Marshalling such evidence, Pathak shows that the dominant understanding of Chipko as divided between two camps—Sunderlal Bahuguna's preservationism and Chandi Prasad Bhatt's sustainable production model—simplifies a complex set of ideologies. Both Bhatt and Bahuguna were influenced by the Gandhian and Sarvodaya movements. Until 1977, both argued that commercial forestry in the hills should be continued but with timber and pine resin being allocated for processing to local labour cooperatives, instead of to private firms from the plains. The divergence in their views after the Emergency was part of a wider ideological recalibration, as paternalistic Sarvodaya ideas of 'uplift’ were set aside by students attracted to Jayaprakash Narayan's concept of 'Total Revolution’ based on social justice. As strategies for local control over resources, and for the appropriate pattern of development in the hills, were hotly debated between Gandhians, communists, socialists and others along an expanding political spectrum, Bahuguna distanced himself from these discussions and adopted a 'no tree felling’ stance. Pathak explores the reasons behind this volte face, from the devastating floods in the Alaknanda valley in 1970 that underlined the fragility of Himalayan ecosystems, to the antagonism and rivalries between different activists. While Bahuguna's indefatigable promotion of preservationist policies brought him great acclaim outside his state, it also marginalised him within Uttarakhand such that his last great satyagraha against the Tehri dam became a lonely enterprise, leading him into the dubious company of Hindu nationalists.

Although Bahuguna and Bhatt figure prominently in the book, Pathak's great act of academic reparation is to recognise the contributions of many more activists whose names are missing from previous accounts. Whether it is Vimla Bahuguna, eclipsed by her famous husband, or Ghanshyam Sailani, the poet whose songs set to local melodies were a staple of all Chipko gatherings, or other activists toiling away in obscurity, Pathak documents their role and, by doing so, reminds us that movements need workers as much as leaders. He also rescues Chipko from its comic-book style representation in popular understanding—tree-hugging villagers—to replace it within the longer history of protest in the hills. This includes campaigns against begaar (coerced unpaid labour extracted by the state), the nationalist struggle, the anti-liquor movement, and students demanding the setting up of colleges and universities in the hills. Taken together, these initiatives help explain the dynamics of Chipko: how women who had earlier organised in mahila mandals (women's collectives) to combat alcoholism came to play a prominent role in defending forests, and how young men's aspirations for education and employment led them to challenge the state's draining of resources from the hills to the plains. Pathak also discusses the afterlife of Chipko, its influence on contemporary efforts in Uttarakhand to conserve mountain springs and streams, preserve cultivated biodiversity and traditional agronomic practices, and to oppose mega-projects such as the Pancheshwar dam.

Pathak skilfully organises masses of information into an engaging narrative of the movement, its skirmishes with the government, the setbacks it faced, and its successes, such as the 1980 central government ban on tree felling above 1000 m. As much as the people, the magnificent landscape of the Himalaya is part of the dramatis personae; vivid descriptions of the havoc caused by floods and landslides enable the reader to appreciate why villagers saw deforestation as a critical threat, not only to livelihoods but to life. Although deforestation is no longer understood to be the primary trigger for environmental disasters in a geologically active region that is also affected by climate change, the belief that it was such a precipitating cause galvanised action across scales, from tiny villages to international coalitions for conservation.

A movement that brought about a worldwide revolution in Green consciousness by firmly coupling ecology with equity through a practical politics that Guha called 'environmentalism of the poor’ has found its ablest chronicler in Pathak, whose deeply knowledgeable and empathetic scholarship is an outstanding tribute to its subject.

   References Top

  1. Guha, R. 1989. Unquiet woods: ecological change and peasant resistance in the Himalaya. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  2. Pathak, S. 2019. Hari bhari ummeed. New Delhi: Vani Prakashan.
  3. Rangan, H. 2000. Of myths and movements: rewriting Chipko into Himalayan history. London: Verso.
  4. Shiva, V. 1988. Staying alive: women, ecology, and development. Delhi: Kali for Women.

   The History of Chipko is an Indictment for India's Conservation Movement Top

Review by Sunita Narain, Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, India

Shekhar Pathak's history of the Chipko movement is also the history of India's environmental movement. The fact is the Chipko movement is the consciousness of India's environmental movement, but it remains misrepresented and misunderstood. It is for this reason that we must read this book so that we can understand that the genesis of the country's conservation movement was rooted in the political movements of self-determination. We need to understand this, because, otherwise, we fall into the trap of the idea of environmentalism that is intrinsically middle-class and conformist. Middle-class environmentalism does not push the envelope in terms of changing the political equations of who manages the environment, who is to benefit from it and how we can build sustainable livelihoods from its use. Instead it finds techno-fixes to the problems of environment—and worse—it excludes people from conservation of natural habitats. But what we must also learn—and Shekhar Pathak alludes to this—is that the Chipko message has been lost and, in fact, distorted in the policies that we have built over these past decades.

The question I also often ask is what did Chipko stand for? Was this a movement of women who hugged trees because they did not want them cut by the woodcutters—in other words, a conservation movement to protect trees? Or was it a movement of women who hugged trees because they wanted the first right to cut the trees—a development movement to build local livelihoods from natural resources, including trees? This is a hard question and one we have for too long avoided discussing.

Shekhar Pathak discusses this in his chapter, “The three streams of Chipko”. He discusses the different ideologies of its three streams—two of its known faces, Sunderlal Bahuguna and Chandi Prasad Bhatt—and the third, the student political movement Uttarakhand Sangharsh Vahini. He writes a fascinating account of these 'three-streams’ and how they evolved and coalesced around the demand for a separate state of Uttarakhand. But he also concludes that, “after the state was created, nobody really knew how to take it forward in any substantive way the aims of Chipko or of the statehood movement.” This, I believe, is equally an indictment of the environmental movement of our age.

It is well accepted that the Chipko movement brought environmental consciousness to the country in the early 1980s. It resulted, as Shekhar Pathak says, in three critical decisions: enactment of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980; non-renewal of the 20-year agreement with Star Paper Mills to provide timber from the forests of Uttarakhand and a ban on felling of green trees for the next 15 years in forests above 1000 m.

But in hindsight, we need to understand that only one message of Chipko—that of conservation—was translatable for policy. The fact is the Forest Conservation Act became the most hated instrument of policy in the Himalayas—Chandi Prasad Bhatt stood out and condemned it as both draconian and a policy that ironically super-centralised decision making so that officials in Delhi would now decide on the diversion of small or large bits of forest land in the remotest districts of the country. It took away power from communities; it disenfranchised them from decision making and their control over natural resources.

All this has meant that we have been able to stem the rate of deforestation. There is no doubt about this. But this is only half right. The fact is that forests in India are still under huge pressure and shrinking over time.

Firstly, the rate of forest land diverted for development projects has been unprecedented in the past five years. But this diversion also happens because there is no value seen in forests—other than the cost that has to be paid for diversion of land by the project proponent. Instead there is value in the dam, road or mine for which the land is needed. So, this pressure on forest land is bound to increase. We must also note that forests are the last remaining public lands in the country and acquisition of private land will become even more expensive and contentious in the future.

Secondly, forests are under pressure for local needs and illegal extraction. The management of this green wealth has not brought any benefits to local people. In all this, while deforestation and forest diversion will grow, we do not have any viable strategies for re-greening these lands. So, we will lose bit by bit.

As a result of this, we have never learnt how to manage the forests—the natural wealth of the Himalayas—in a way that will benefit people. We have moved from the age of extraction to the age of conservation, forgetting that we have a vast number of people who need livelihoods from natural resources. The development experiment that would have built local economies, built resilience and created jobs from nature, was never even tried.

I believe Shekhar Pathak's book should have brought us to the present times to tell us how the amazing Gaura Devi died disillusioned and broken. She did not see development in her village, only the construction of the Rishiganga hydrolectric project. In 2021, after the floods in Chamoli, when reporters from Down To Earth visited the village, they saw a broken community wanting to be relocated out of this region, cursing the choices they made to protect the land and forests.

   Locating Chipko in the History of Uttarakhand Top

Review by Vasudha Pande, Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi, Delhi, India

This book, translated from Hari Bhari Umeed (Hindi), is by Shekhar Pathak—activist of the Chipko Andolan and an acclaimed historian.

The iconic status of Chipko, as a grassroots struggle led by women in a remote part of the Central Himalayas—against state and capital to save its forests—derives from diverse journalist and academic writings. The early historiography of Chipko, in the decade of the 1980s, (Weber 1988; Guha 1989) celebrates the successful resistance of peasants to felling of trees and commercial use of forests by the government and their collusion with business interests.

The resonance of this story, at the national level, led to the inauguration of a similar movement Appiko in South India and inspired movements in Switzerland, Philippines, Malaysia, Kenya and Thailand. However, attempts to replicate Chipko in other parts of the Himalayas were not successful. Scholars now represent this movement as the ecological awareness of marginal communities and people of the Global South, elaborated as 'environmentalism of the poor’ (Guha and Martinez Alier 1997). The active participation of women in the movement, led Vandana Shiva to hail it as an 'ecofeminist movement’ (Shiva 1992), whereas, Bina Agarwal—using the gender studies perspective—preferred the term 'feminist environmentalism’ (Agarwal 1992).

The book is introduced by Ramachandra Guha who writes that Pathak's book is the definitive history of the Chipko movement. Written with the advantage of hindsight by an activist—richly textured by primary and vernacular sources—supported by field reports, interviews and several padayatras (treks), the book is indeed a monumental history of a people's struggle against the erosion of their way of life.

It tacitly supports Guha's contention that, “Chipko was primarily a peasant movement in defence of traditional rights in the forest, and only secondarily—if at all—an 'environmental’ or 'feminist’ movement.” (Guha 1989: xii). Pathak explains this when he says that in 1978, Chipko activists were exposed to a completely new vocabulary; Chipko suddenly transcended the economy and became ecological and even ecofeminist (256, 261). Pathak suggests that Sunderlal Bahuguna's shift to 'deep ecology’ and 'ecology is permanent economy’ gave the movement a different direction and representation. Thomas Weber had noted something similar when he said that Bahuguna 'hijacked’ the movement. Pathak adds that the appropriation of Chipko by environmentalists celebrated jangal ke upkaar (favours of the forests)—soil, water and air—but chose to ignore its role of providing subsistence to hill peasants. Pathak provides interesting details and profiles of women who participated in the movement at different locations (271). However, he sees Chipko as the product of a specific Uttarakhand ecology and women as active and equal participants in its quotidian and agitational life—certainly not as feminists.

Like Guha, Pathak refers to three streams within Chipko—Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Dashauli Gram Swarajya Sangh (DGSS) of Chamoli; Sunderlal Bahuguna, Coordinator, Uttarakhand Sarvodaya Mandal of Tehri and Uttarakhand Sangharsh Vahini (USV). Sarvodaya activists and cadres of the Communist Party of India were dominant in the first phase of Chipko from 1973–1977. Bhatt played a seminal role in initiating the movement and in the use of the term Chipko. In 1973, at a meeting he asked the rhetorical question, “What to do with trees marked for felling?” (116), the audience responded warmly to the idea of 'sticking’ (chipko in Hindi) to the trees. Some days later, the women of Reni did precisely that—they stuck to the trees by hugging them and thus, prevented them from being cut. Bahuguna's involvement, on the other hand, began with a padayatra in 1973 to resist forest laws. This phase of the movement was successful inasmuch as it led to the establishment of a forest corporation, worker cooperatives, curbs on the contractor system, ban on felling in fragile catchment areas and inclusion of Chipko activists in government committees.

The USV (inspired by the Chatra Sangharsh Vahini) formed in 1977, led by students, young socialists and Marxists, inaugurated a more radical second phase. When violence erupted at the USV's opposition to the forest auction in Nainital, Bahuguna condemned the violence and disassociated himself. The imminent arrest of students led to huge demonstrations and public support in Haldwani and other hill towns. The Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) was mobilised for repression. Resistance led to a complete bandh in all the hill districts on 24 February, 1978. The Uttarakhand Sangharsh Samiti not only energised the Chipko movement but its young leadership bridged the traditional divide between Kumaun and Garhwal. Pathak says that at that moment, because of Chipko, Uttarakhand was imagined and became possible.

According to the author, in 1980, the Congress government took three major decisions, all as a response to the Chipko movement—the introduction of a pan-India Forest Conservation Act, the non-renewal of a 20-year agreement with Star Paper Mills and a ban on felling of green trees above 1000 m for the next 14 years. As Chipko won laurels, national and international organisations recognised the struggle and its leadership. Both Bhatt and Bahuguna received many awards, the Mahila Mangal Dals (womens’ organisations) were applauded for their afforestation work and Gaura Devi was felicitated. It is noteworthy that no one associated with the USV received any award (250). The marginalisation of socialist and communist leadership irked many activists and Pathak's story asserts their role and brings them back in.

If we use Gadgil and Guha's (1995) tripartite classification of environmental movements in India, then Bahuguna is the crusading Gandhian, Bhatt—the appropriate technologist and the USV—the environmental Marxists. Post Chipko, Bhatt continued with the Gandhian Sarvodaya dream, that placed forests at the centre of a decentralised agro-pastoral economy, but the hope of generating livelihoods for Paharis (mountain people) from the forests faded away (261). In Tehri, Bahuguna moved away from developing worker cooperatives and forest-based livelihoods to an emphasis on deep ecology, with roots in religion and a rigid conservation policy. In the tenth chapter, 'Living Light of Chipko', the author suggests that those who led Chipko went on to promote indigenous seeds, resist the Tehri dam, promote sustainable use of water, support anti-mining and Baanj Abhiyan (movement for propagation of Oak) and edit Pahar, an annual journal in Hindi on the Himalayas. They are the living legacy, the green branches and offshoots—the Hari Bhari Umeed (Full of Green Hope).

Pathak considers Chipko as a prelude to the Uttarakhand movement, as an assertion of people's power. The struggle (1993–2000) for a separate state of Uttarakhand was undoubtedly informed by Chipko's template and networking but studies of the Uttarakhand movement, reveal a great disquiet and dissatisfaction with Chipko. Gayatri Devi, the heroine of the Doongri-Paintoli struggle said, “Earlier, we could fight the contractors, but now the sarkar (government) and the van nigam (forest corporation) are the biggest contractors. How can we fight them?” (Mitra 1993). Even USV activists like Shamsher Singh Bisht, who later joined the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, confessed to the fact that Chipko failed to deliver and turned a movement for control and self-determination of natural resources into a conservationist project (Aryal 1994). Some of the writings refer to Chipko as a 'myth’ (Mawdsley 1998; Bandyopadhyay 1999; Rangan 2000). For example, Rangan argues that Chipko did not translate into tangible gains for the local people and certainly did not reduce the government's control over forests. Pathak acknowledges this when he refers to the tragedy of Uttarakhand's ghost villages and laments Chipko's inability to provide a sustainable solution by engaging with the sub regional diversity of the hill districts (277).

A reappraisal of Chipko needs to move beyond the nitty-gritty of the movement. It requires a fresh look at the colonial and pre-colonial past. By creating the petty peasant as the nodal point for revenue collection, colonial governance disaggregated 'altitudinal verticality’ (the oscillation of herders and cultivators to optimise niche resources through the seasons) (Murra 1968), and eroded the interdependence of mountain communities. The loss of the trans-Himalayan trade and the Tarai (marshy tract at the base of the Himalayan foothills), along with the sedentarisation of transhumance communities, disarticulated a thousand-year-old agro-pastoral economy which could not be restored through piecemeal measures. Chipko was a hope just as Uttarakhand's utopian appeal was a dream. Paharis need to reconnect and engage with their mountains for creative answers to sustainability and livelihoods.

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

   References Top

Agarwal, B. 1992. The gender and environment debate: lessons from India. Feminist Studies 18(1): 119–158.   Back to cited text no. 1
Aryal, M. 1994. Axing Chipko. https://www.himalmag.com/axing-chipko/ Accessed on June 09, 2021.  Back to cited text no. 2
Bandyopadhyay, J. 1999. Chipko movement: of floated myths and flouted realities. Economic and Political Weekly. 34(15) April: 880–882.   Back to cited text no. 3
Gadgil, M. and R. Guha. 1995. Ecology and equity: the use and abuse of nature in contemporary India. London: Routledge.   Back to cited text no. 4
Guha, R. 1989. Unquiet woods: ecological change and peasant resistance in the Himalaya. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.   Back to cited text no. 5
Guha, R. and J. Martinez-Alier. 1997. Varieties of environmentalism: essays north and south. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.   Back to cited text no. 6
Mawdsley, E. 1998. After Chipko: from environment to region in Uttaranchal. The Journal of Peasant Studies 25(4): 36–54.   Back to cited text no. 7
Mitra, A. 1993. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/coverage/chipko-an-unfinished-mission-30883. Accessed on June 09, 2021.  Back to cited text no. 8
Murra, J. 1968. An Aymara Kingdom in 1567. Ethnohistory (15): 115–151.  Back to cited text no. 9
Rangan, H. 2000. Of myths and movements: rewriting Chipko into Himalayan history. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.   Back to cited text no. 10
Shiva, V. 1992. The Chipko Earth Charter. Sanctuary 12(3): 44–49.   Back to cited text no. 11
Weber, T. 1988. Hugging the trees: the story of the Chipko movement. New Delhi: Viking.  Back to cited text no. 12


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