Chipko Andolan Movement

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Chipko Andolan movement

India has a long history of non-violent, passive resistance in social movements rooted in its Hindu concept of ahimsa, or "no harm." During the British occupation of India in the early twentieth century, Indian leader Mohandas K. Gandhi began to employ a method of resistance against the British that he called satyagraha (meaning "force of truth"). Synthesized from his knowledge of Henry David Thoreau , Leo Tolstoy, Christianity and Hinduism, Gandhi's concept of satyagraha involves the absolute refusal to cooperate with a perceived wrong and the use of nonviolent tactics in combination with complete honesty to confront, and ultimately convert, evil.

During the occupation, the rights of peasants to gather products, including forest materials, was severely curtailed. New land ownership systems imposed by the British transformed what had been communal village resources into the private property of newly created landlords. Furthermore, policies that encouraged commercial exploitation of forests were put into place. Trees were felled on a large scale to build ships for the British Royal Navy or to provide ties for the expanding railway network in India, severely depleting forest resources on which traditional cultures had long depended.

In response to British rule with its forest destruction and impoverishment of native people, a series of non-violent movements utilizing satyagraha spread throughout India. The British and local aristocracy suppressed these protests brutally, massacring unarmed villagers by the thousands, and jailing Gandhi a number of times, but Gandhi and his allies remained steadfast in their resistance. The British, forced to comprehend the horror of their actions and unable to scapegoat the nonviolent Indians, at last withdrew from India.

After India gained independence, two of Gandhi's disciples, Mira Behn and Sarala Behn, moved to the foothills of the Himalayas to establish ashramas (spiritual retreats) dedicated to raising women's status and rights. Their project was dedicated to four major goals: 1) organizing local women, 2) campaigning against alcohol consumption, 3) fighting for forest protection, and 4) setting up small, local, forest-based industries.

During the 1970s, commercial loggers began large-scale tree felling in the Garhwal region in the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India. Landslides and floods resulted from stripping the forest cover from the hills. The firewood on which local people depended was destroyed, threatening the way of life of the traditional forest culture.

In April, 1973, village women from the Gopeshwar region who had been educated and empowered by the principles of non-violence devised by the Behns began to confront loggers directly, wrapping their arms around trees to protect them. The outpouring of support sparked by their actions was dubbed the Chipko Andolan movement (literally, "movement to hug trees"). This crusade to save the forests eventually prevented logging on 4,633 mi2 (12,000 km2) of sensitive watersheds in the Alakanada basin. Today, the Chipko Andolan movement has grown to more than four thousand groups working to save India's forests. Their slogan is: "What do the forests bear? Soil , water, and pure air."

The successes of this movement, both in empowering local women and in saving the forests on which they depend, are inspiring models for grassroots green movements around the world.

[William P. Cunningham Ph.D. and
Jeffrey Muhr


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Durning, A. B. "Environmentalism South." Amicus Journal 12 (Summer 1990): 12-18.