Chipko” in Hindi means to cling, reflecting the protesters’ main technique of throwing their arms around the tree trunks designated to be cut, and refusing to move.
In India there is an ancient legend about a girl, Amrita Devi, who died trying to protect the trees that surrounded her village. The story recounts a time when the local Maharajah’s tree cutters arrived to cut the villager’s trees for wood for his new fortress. Amrita, with others, jumped in front of the trees and hugged them. In some versions of the tale their dramatic efforts prevented the forest’s destruction; in others Amrita dies in her valiant attempt.
The Chipko movement or Chipko Andolan (Hindi:चिपको आन्दोलन) (literally “to stick” in Hindi) is a socio-ecological movement that practised the Gandhian methods of satyagraha and non-violent resistance, through the act of hugging trees to protect them from being felled. The modern Chipko movement started in the early 1970s in the Garhwal Himalayas of Uttarakhand, with growing awareness towards rapid deforestation. The landmark event in this struggle took place on March 26, 1974, when a group of female peasants in Reni village, Hemwalghati, in Chamoli district, Uttarakhand, India, acted to prevent the cutting of trees and reclaim their traditional forest rights that were threatened by the contractor system of the state Forest Department, and transpired hundreds of such grassroot level actions, throughout the region. By the 80s, the movement spread throughout India, and led to formulation of people sensitive forest policies and stopping of open felling of trees in regions as far reaching as Vindhyas and the Western Ghats.
The first recorded event of Chipko however, took place in village Khejarli, Jodhpur district, in 1730 AD, when 363 Bishnois, led by Amrita Devi sacrificed their lives while protecting green Khejri trees, considered sacred by the community, by hugging them, and braved the axes of loggers sent by the local ruler, today it is seen an inspiration and a precursor for Chipko movement of Garhwal.
The Chipko Movement is the result of hundreds of decentralised and locally autonomous initiatives. Its leaders and activists are primarily village women, acting to save their means of subsistence and their communities. Men are involved too, however, and some of these have given wider leadership to the movement. Prominent Chipko figures include: Sunderlal Bahuguna, a Gandhian activist and philosopher, whose appeal to Mrs. Gandhi results in the green-felling ban and whose 5,000 kilometre trans-Himalaya footmarch in 1981-83 was crucial in spreading the Chipko message. Bahuguna coined the Chipko slogan: ‘ecology is permanent economy’.
Chandi Prasad Bhatt, one of the earliest Chipko activists, who fostered locally-based industries based on the conservation and sustainable use of forest wealth for local benefit.
Dhoom Singh Negi, who, with Bachni Devi and many village women, first saved trees by hugging them in the ‘Chipko embrace’. They coined the slogan: ‘What do the forests bear? soil, water and pure air’.
Ghanasyam Raturi, the Chipko poet, whose songs echo throughout the Himalaya of Uttar Pradesh.
Indu Tikekar, a doctor of philosophy, whose spiritual discourses throughout India on the ancient Sanskrit scriptures and on comparative religion have stressed the unity and oneness of life and put the Chipko Movement in this context.
A feature published by the United Nations Environment Programme reported the Chipko Movement thus: ‘In effect the Chipko people are working a socio-economic revolution by winning control of their forest resources from the hands of a distant bureaucracy which is concerned with selling the forest for making urban-oriented products.’
"The solution of present-day problems lie in the re-establishment of a harmonious relationship between man and nature. To keep this relationship permanent we will have to digest the definition of real development: development is synonymous with culture. When we sublimate nature in a way that we achieve peace, happiness, prosperity and, ultimately, fulfilment along with satisfying our basic needs, we march towards culture." Sunderlal Bahuguna