Down to Earth
Chipko was not just about saving trees
Whenever I ask people what the Chipko movement was all about, most say it was about saving trees. But that's not entirely true. Unfortunately, in the article, kEmbrace of Chipkoy (1-15 January, 2017), the author glorifies the movement and is unable to highlight its realities. Though the movement was christened Chipko, which literally means hugging, no one ever hugged a tree to protect it from felling. The idea that Chipko was about saving trees at the cost of one's life was manufactured by the media. And it was so glamorous that many leaders of the movement succumbed to it, and the real cause was relegated to the back seat.
Historian Ramachandra Guha correctly points out that the movement's leaders had two voices. Privately, while talking to people from Uttarakhand, the leaders would say that people should have rights over forests. But once outside the region, they would talk about protecting trees and the environment. Although the dual speak helped them become icons of environment protection and earn accolades, it distorted Chipko's core concerns, which were restoring traditional forest rights and forest-based employment. Protecting trees was just a by-product of the movement, but it became the movement's central message. People in Uttarakhand were against felling but only when it was done by outsiders. But in 1981, when the government banned felling of trees 1,000 m above the sea level, it was hailed as the victory of Chipko. In times when people remain alienated from forests, we must critically analyse the movement. VINOD PANDE VIA EMAIL