[Shri Sunderlal Bahugunaji, one of the major inspirers and leaders of the Chipko movement, observed a prayerful fast for 11 days for self-introspection and focussing the countrymen's attention on that serious problem [of the critical state of affairs in the Himalayan region]. The fast started on 2nd April ‘81 and was to be followed by a foot march from Kashmir to Kohima in May-June by the youth drawn from various parts of the country. On this occasion, Bahugunaji has requested us to give wide publicity to the cause of Chipko movement and to support it by all possible means.

Chipko is too well known a movement to need a detailed write-up from us. Also, sufficient literature has been published explaining the history and the objectives of the movement. This literature can be obtained by writing to Chipko Information Centre, P.O. Silyara Ghansali, 249155 (Tehri Garhwal, U.P.) Below, we only emphasise the two special features of the movement, which in our view make Chipko more than a usual conservationist movement. ]

1. Chipko is a Gandhi an Movement for Total Change

The Chipko movement had its origins in the efforts of Shri Chandi Prasad Bhatt and his colleagues, started in the early sixties, to win a share for the local hill people in the commercially exploited forest wealth of the Himalayas. The Chipko movement proper, however, right from its inception on March 27, 1973, has had a much wider scope than that of an economic, or even an ecological movement. The organizers of the movement see Chipko as a movement that 'rebels against the materialistic civilization which, in order to satisfy its ever-increasing artificial needs, has provoked man to, conquer nature and rape the earth, and a movement that works for 'the establishment of cordial relationship between man and nature.' This wider perspective of the movement is reflected in all its facets: in the techniques it employs (Chipko literally means embracing— embrace the trees to avoid the lumberman's axe falling on them); in the slogans and songs it uses (Chipko has thrown up a number of melodious folk songs and powerful slogans—all expressing the hill-people's organic link with the natural forests), in what its leaders say and even in the idiom that they use for saying it. Notice the personification of the Himalayas in the following;

"The Himalayas have been providing livelihood to the highlanders through its forests and rivers, but now its endurance is exhausted owing to man's provocations and it has started hurtling rocks. The Himalayas which was known to safeguard against any peril owing to its unpenetrable wall, has become the origin of floods and has shaken the economic structure of Northern India. It has declared war against mankind. Man has no power and wit to face this calamity, other than change his style from A to Z. Instead of presuming himself the conqueror of nature he should try and live in harmony with it. Our materialistic civilization has made us the butchers of nature. In order to satisfy his passion man wants to plunder everything at one stretch. He wants to slaughter the earth."

This evolution of the Chipko movement from an economic-ecological movement to a total movement against the modern civilization (as always envisaged by Gandhiji see ‘Hind Swaraj') has, been forced in practice. Right from the beginning, Chipko’s stand against felling of trees was condemned as a narrow parochial attitude opposed to the ‘scientific’ exploitation of the forests. To this the answer of the Chipko workers could only be:

"The "principles of forestry" quoted in books are "scientific principles" follow¬ing from a world-view which teaches that nature is for conquering and the earth for raping. It is the world-view of the contractors and profit-makers and the “scientific principles" that flow from it are their principles. We have no faith in this "science of forestry". Our world-view teaches us to treat the whole world as our family (Vasudhaivecutumbakam). This is the world view that allows for permanent life on the hills. The science of forestry that flows from this world-view is the science that the hill people know and have been practicing since ages. It is this science that is of the\ people and for the people in which we have faith".

This then is an instance of the concept of the neutrality of science being questioned in practice, and this could also serve as an indication of the sources of a patriotic and people-oriented science and Technology (PPST).

2. Chipko is a Gandhian Women's Liberation Movement

On March 26, '74, during the Chipko action to save the Reni forests, the contractors and the government authorities connived to keep all the men-folk away from the village. The Chipko leaders were kept at Gopeshwar by the D.F.O. under the pretext of negotiations etc. The village men were all called to Chamoli under the pre¬text of paying compensation for the land appropriated by the Army at least 14 years earlier. And the contractors’ men were sent to Reni to fell the trees. When the Chipko leaders, Bhattji amongst them heard of the deception, they were dumbstruck; .everyone thought that all was lost. However, on reaching Reni the next day they found a complete surprise awaiting them. The women of the village had on that day, on their own initiative, gone to the forest and stopped the contractors' men from felling any trees. They had pushed the lumbermen out of the forest, and to make it doubly sure that they do not return, they had cut the road leading from the village to the forest; and also kept a night-long vigil over the marked trees. From that day the movement became the women's movement.

The organizers repeatedly emphasize the participation of women in the movement. The movement is described as ' Uttarkhand women's bid to save the forest wealth.' It is pointed out that women are the major sufferers in the loss of forests. It is their life that becomes a hell as a result of the 'scientific-commercial' exploitation of the forests. The men are forced to leave their homes and go to the plains to earn a livelihood. So the whole burden of family life-looking after the children and cattle and working in the fields-has fallen on the women. Sometimes, they have to walk more than 20 kms to bring a head-load of leaf-fodder or fuel. The drying up of drinking water resources has further increased their difficulties; hence their struggle to save the forests as a source of fuel, fodder and drinking water sources, which are fast depleted as a result of "scientific management".

That a Gandhian movement for a more harmonious life on earth be led to seek its base in women is particularly interesting. It may be relevant to summarize here Gandhiji's conception of woman's role in ushering in the regenerate society of his vision. (See: M.K.Gandhi, "Woman and social injustice”). Gandhiji believed that: while both man and woman are fundamentally the same, their roles have been different. While man has taken on the role of breadwinner, which in today's society is based on the exploitation of man and nature, woman has been the caretaker and distributor. In the present society, man's role is the dominant one and woman has developed an inferiority complex by believing in man's interested teaching that she is inferior to him. According to Gandhiji, in the regenerate human society based on Ahimsa-on harmonious, non-exploitative relationships between man and man, and man and nature—it is the woman's role that will be dominant. Gandhiji believed that woman will achieve true liberation, not by demanding equal partnership in modern man's rapacity, but by reemphasizing her role as the caretaker and distributor. In the struggle for a new order based on Ahimsa, woman will thus be the unquestioned leader.

‘My contribution to the great problem (of women's liberation) lies in my presenting for acceptance truth and ahimsa in every walk of life, whether for individuals or nations. I have hugged the hope that in this woman will be the unquestioned leader and, having thus found her place in human evolution, will shed her inferiority complex'. (Harijan, 24-2-1940; Rep. in loc: cit. p. 27).

The chipko movement while showing that a movement for harmonious life on earth, for better care of natural resources, calls forth spontaneous active participation even of the supposedly backward, uneducated women living in the remote villages of the Himalayas, seems to be trying out in practice Gandhiji's conception of a women's liberation movement.

All those who are searching for alternatives to the modern rapacious imperialist civilization will find a lot to support and study in the Chipko movement.

Suggested Reading

1. M. K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj

2. M. K. Gandhi, Women and Social Injustice, Navjivan Publishing house, Ahmedabad, 1942.

3. Anupam Mishra and Satyendra Tripathi, Chipko Movement, People's Action New Delhi, 1978.

Author:Madras Group

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