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 Chipko movement is popularly regarded as the most influential environmental movement in India’s history. In the 1970s dozens of Chipko protests were staged throughout the region of Uttarakhandi by "hundreds of decentralized and locally autonomous initiatives" made up of peasant villagers (The Right Livelihood Awards, hereafter RLA 1987: 1). These mobilizations employed the Chipko method of “treehugging” protest and adopted its name, along with the religious and cultural values associated with it, in order to form an increasingly organized movement that attempted to bring an end to deforestation in the northern Indian states. Most accounts of the Chipko movement judge it as having been relatively successful, in that actions of Chipko protestors led directly to long-term bans on logging throughout the region. Due to this success, as well as a number of other factors, the Chipko movement is popularly credited as being foundational in the development of Indian environmentalism. Since the last Chipko forest protests were held in the 1980s, the movement, its messages and leaders, have influenced other Chipko-like protests throughout south and southeast Asia, as well as in Europe, and have changed the face of environmental and developmental policy making as well as political struggle in India. Because of these achievements, the Chipko movement has also become the most studied, most debated, and perhaps most misrepresented South Asian environmental social movement.
The Chipko Movement of 1960’s and 70’s India is a powerful and valuable example of women playing a central role in environmental and social action. This movement “was started by women in the Himalayan region in North India in an effort to stop deforestation by timber contractors”. During the 1950’s and 60’s, contractors and industrialists began to target this area for large-scale forestry, threatening the well-being of both the natural ecosystems and the local and indigenous communities who rely upon them. The women of these communities, who interact with these natural areas in many of the ways described above, suffered most from the loss of forest, erosion of soil, threatening of local flora and fauna, and disruption of water systems that began to be the results of these practices. In response, many of these women led their communities in resistance movements which came to be collectively known as the Chipko movement.
Growing out of the Uttarakhand Sarvodaya Mandal movement formed by “Sarala Behn, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi,” the Chipko movement took a number of forms throughout the 1960’s and 70’s. Women throughout the region led their communities in nonviolent protests, held religious Bhagwat katha sessions, fasted, and used folk songs to “spread the message of the importance of protecting forest wealth against indiscriminate exploitation and depletion”. The name of the movement, “Chipko” (meaning ‘embracing’), comes from an incredibly brave series of protests in which women (and some men) from the villages physically guarded the trees from the loggers day and night by wrapping themselves around them in an embrace. With the movement spreading to more and more villages and becoming increasingly visible, former Prime Minister Indira Ghandi called for talks that “led to the imposition of a 15-year ban on felling above 1,000 metres”. The Chipko movement came to serve as an important model for others of its kind, such as the Appico movement in southern India.
The Chipko movement provides a number of extremely important lessons for sustainable development and for the ways we interact with the world. First, it makes clear the close connections between women and the environment and between women’s rights and environmental protection. Vandana Shiva, one of the women who took part in the Chipko movement, explained that “feminism and environmentalism are inseparable.
A second important lesson that can be learned from this movement is the great importance and power of local and indigenous knowledge. It is clear that the knowledge of the people, and particularly the women, living in this area, was by far the most suited to understanding their own needs, the needs of the natural environment, and the connections between them – as Sunderlal Bahuguna, one of the men who also participated in the movement, expressed, “The village councils, the people who live in the mountains and have first-hand knowledge of what is viable and appropriate, should be the decision makers, not the government departments”.
Finally, the spirit of the Chipko movement calls for a “passionate commitment to a life-style ideology based on peaceful co-existence, compassion, simple living, harmony, and self-reliance with self respect”. It stands as a testament to a nonviolent, caring, and passionate way of interacting with the world, a testament that we can learn from and carry with us in our lives.
The forests of India are the unique resources for the survival of the rural people of India which were exploited greatly for commerce and industry. The Chipko Movement of India taken birth in Himalayan foothills gained great significance throughout the world’s environmentalist circles for its successful efforts against deforestation.