By Amy Laughlin
"What do the forests bear? Soil, water, and pure air." While
this may seem like an appropriate bumper sticker slogan, this phrase
is the motto for the Chipko movement, an assembly of indigenous peoples
in India fighting for their forests. By embracing the Gandhian method
of satyagraha nonviolent resistance, the movement has prevented the
destruction of thousands of trees since April 1973.
The word "Chipko" appropriately translates to "embrace"
or "hug," as the Chipko’s main nonviolent action is
to cling to trees in an attempt to ward off tree-cutters. For them,
tree hugging is serious business and a way to ensure their very survival.
The Chipko Movement originated in the Utttarakhand region in northern
India in the early ‘70s when the government began restricting
areas of forest and auctioning them off to lumber companies. Natives
who lived in the mountainous and hilly regions of Uttar Pradesh were
losing the trees which provided them with food, fuel, fodder for cattle,
and stabilized their soil and water sources. In an effort to protect
their natural resources, the peoples of Uttar Pradesh split into many
small, decentralized groups and followed axe men and tree-cutters to
their prospective sites, demonstrated against the removal of the trees,
and finished by hugging the trees. Their peaceful demonstrating reached
its zenith in 1980, when India’s then Prime Minister, Indira
Gandhi, implemented a 15-year ban on tree felling in India.
The Movement has since spread to nearly all mountainous regions of
India and can almost be considered the "sibling" of another,
older environmental movement: the Bishnois. This western India-based
is a sect of environmentally-aware followers who preserve plants, trees,
and protect wildlife in an effort to uphold their sacred traditions.
The Bishnois originated in the 15th century in a village near Jodhpur.
A local man, Jambhoji, adopted a philosophy that states "nothing—human
or not—deserves to be killed." Thus, he and his followers
embarked on a new lifestyle that included a ban on killing animals
the felling of trees.
The story of Amriti Devi perfectly symbolizes all that the Bishnois
look to achieve. She and 362 other Bishnois were sawed to death when
they hugged trees in an effort to stop loggers from leveling a forest
in 1730. This act of sacrificing oneself is not uncommon in the Bishnois
way of life. They fiercely protect their environment by any means, whether
it is by not hunting, waiting to use trees until they are dead or have
fallen down, or by sharing their crops with hungry animals.
Before offering loggers her head, Amriti Devi is said to have uttered: "Sar Santey Rookh Rahe To Bhi Sasto Jaan," which roughly translates
to "If a tree is saved from felling even at the cost of one’s
head, it's worth it." This credo is a reflection of the commitment
and environmental awareness practiced by the Bishnois.
Both the Chipko and Bishnois movements are still in existence. Jodhpur
is still the central area for many practicing Bishnois and a thriving
community of very happy animals. The Chipko movement has grown to include
concerned students and youth in the areas surrounding the original
of Uttar Pradesh (now Uttaranchal) and is still the original group
of “tree huggers.”