Although our country is male dominating country where most of the actions are taken by the men, but women has also shown their impact and importance at times. Chipko movement was the one where women showed what they can do when its needed.
Chipko movement was launched to protect the trees being cut down. This was not the first time when women came up to the protect the environment. An ancient Indian legend tells of a girl, Amrita Devi, who died trying to protect the trees that surrounded her village. In the story the woodcutters of the local Maharajah come with the intention of cutting the trees of the peasants, to obtain the wood to build a new fortress.
Such stories inspired the actions of a group of women – mostly peasants, who in the 1970s launched similar kind of protest in India. For peasant women, preserving the environment was crucial for economic survival. As gatherers of the main foods, firewood, and water, women have strong interests in reversing the processes of deforestation, desertification, and water pollution. Women who make their living in the Himalayan valleys with great efforts, using forests as food sources, timber, and fodder for their animals, face a particularly severe challenge.
The disintegration of the Himalayan forests began more than a century ago. In the 60s, the effort of India for national economic development paved more and more trees being cut down in order to export wood to obtain foreign currency in exchange. As a result, hilly soil was washed away, causing landslides, floods, and accumulation of sediments in the rivers downstream of the hills. Crops and even houses were destroyed, women were forced to go and look further and further for timber, forage, and water. After all, it was women who were the biggest victims of India’s deforestation policies. These harmful deforestation policies gave rise to a movement referred to as the Chipko movement. “Chipko” in Hindi means that “to cling”, where the protesters use to embrace the trees destined to be cut and to refuse to maneuver.
The participation of women in the movement can be traced to a remote hilltop town where a businessman in 1973 was given state authorization to fell 3,000 trees for a sporting goods factory. The area had already been dangerously stripped. When the loggers were expected to arrive, the men were lured out of the village with an excuse, leaving the women at home to take care of the household chores. As soon as the woodcutters appeared, an alarm sounded and the head of the village woman , a fifty year old widow, gathered twenty-seven women and together they ran into the forest. The women pleaded with the loggers, calling the forest their “maternal home”, and explaining the consequences of cutting trees. The woodcutters, among the cries and with violence, threatened women with weapons. Women in turn threatened to embrace the marked trees and die with them and it worked! The workers went off.
In 1974, some women from a nearby area used the same technique of hugging trees to protest against the clearing of the forests of their lands. And in 1977, in another area, women tied sacred ribbons around the trees destined to die – a symbolic gesture in the Hindu costume, which indicates the link between brother-sister relationships. They claimed that their trees would be preserved even at the cost of their lives.
In the 1980s the ideas of the Chipko movement spread, often among women who talked about it in places where water was collected, on village paths, and in markets. The women realized that they were not powerless; there were actions they could take and a movement that would support them. Songs and slogans were created. One of them is mentioned below:
The entrepreneur says:
“You stupid village women, do you know what these forests yield?
Resin, wood, and a lot of foreign currency!”
“Yes, we know. What do the forests yield?
Land, water, and pure air,
earth, water, and pure air.”
As an organized action, the Chipko movement has had some success.
Sometimes it has organized the replanting of the trees in the areas near the houses of the villages. In 1987 the Chipko movement was chosen for an “Award for the Right to Subsistence”, known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”. The award was rightly deserved for this small movement dominated by women that had become a national campaign for the preservation of forests.