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The Chipko Andolan Movement originated in the Indian Himalayan region of Uttarkhand, in the state of current-day Uttaranchal. The Hindi term Chipko means to “hug” or “cling to” and refers to peasants demonstrating against government-led logging practices by circling and embracing trees. Though the movement officially began in the villages of Mandal and Gopeshwar, it quickly spread to other mountain regions of the Indian Himalaya. The story of the Chipko Andolan Movement has inspired similar movements around the world.
Prior to the Chipko Movement, residents in the area were already skeptical of government logging practices, drawing a connection between heavy deforestation and severe erosion. Villagers around Gopeshwar were therefore accustomed to protesting the illegal commercial contracting policies of the Forest Department, advocating instead for increased employment through local contracting opportunities.
These concerns were taken up by a local nongovernmental organization, the Daushali Gram Swarajya Sangh (DGSS) or Dasholi Society for Village Self-Rule. The first Chipko Movement protest took place in early 1973, when the DGSS’s request for an allotment of ash trees was turned down by the government. During the same period, and just over 10 kilometers away near Mandal, a private enterprise was granted an allotment of ash trees for the production of commercial sporting goods. Led by Chandi Prasad Bhatt, the local villagers responded to this perceived injustice by circling and embracing the trees set for commercial logging. After many days of vigilance by Chipko members, the commercial interests moved elsewhere.
In 1974, the forest department again planned another logging venture, this time not far away near the village of Reni in the Alakananda Valley. Guara Devi, the head of a village women’s group, mobilized a number of locals consisting primarily of women to prevent logging operations. The loggers were eventually forced to retreat, revealing the central role of women in the overall movement. The Chipko Movement is commonly reported as singly unified; however, it has been more of a conglomeration of distinct, somewhat smaller movements.
The Reni forest protests marked a shift in Chipko movement goals from a demand for forest products to supply local industries, to a new and much broader concern over the ecological control of forest resource extraction to guarantee dependable supplies of water and fuelwood to local residents. The Chipko Movement therefore came to represent a continuation of the colonial-era defense of traditional forest rights over state encroachment. Tactically, the Chipko Movement was a postcolonial extension of the Gandhian satyagraha-a nonviolent means of confronting exploitative powers.
Reestablishing Forest Practices
While the Chipko Andolan Movement is notable because of its ideological and organizational influence on environmental movements around the world, it also offers a valuable point of reflection on how environmentalists retell historical narratives. Some have characterized the Chipko movement as the accomplishment of women protecting the reproductive power of forests against exploitative commercial logging practices. Others present Chipko as a movement by local peasants seeking to preserve traditional forest practices and identities. Critics suggest both these narratives rely on overly romantic tropes of Himalayan history premised on conditions of ecological and social harmony. The goal of the Chipko Movement members in the mid-1970s was to reestablish, on their own terms, a set of preestablished profitable forest practices connected to broader market and state ventures.
- Ramachandra Guha, The Unquiet Woods: Ecological Change and Peasant Resistance in the Himalaya (Oxford University Press, 1998);
- Haripriya Rangan, Of Myth and Movements: Rewriting Chipko into Himalayan History (Verso, 2000);
- Paul Routledge, “The Chipko Movement,” in Terrains of Resistance (Praeger Publishers, 1993);
- Vandana Shiva, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development (Zed Books, 1998).