Down to Earth

Chipko was not just about saving trees

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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

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