According to social historian Ramachandra Guha, author of The Unquiet Woods, Chipko is the latest in a long series of peasant protests going back to the turn of the century against commercial forestry in the Uttar Pradesh HimalayaPhotograph by: Avikal Somvanshi
As a young woman at the time of Chipko, Gauma Devi (left) stood up for a way of life threatened by deforestationPhotograph by: Avikal Somvanshi
Chipko's message was uncomplicated but difficult to implement: Cling to a tree to prevent it from being felled. To do so meant braving the sharp edge of the axe that had already felled many hectares of forest. Only when this message was widely accepted were the trees saved. But the new generation is fast losing interest in the cause. A hydel dam coming up right next to the village has attracted no reaction from the folks of ReniPhotograph by: Avikal Somvanshi
Chipko, literally meaning to get glued in Hindi, today evokes romantic images of poor, village women in the hills of northern India determinedly hugging trees to prevent them from being cut down by the very axes of forest contractors that also threatened their lives. But Chipko's multi-faceted identity has resulted in it meaning different things to different people.
On this day (March 26) in 1974, 27 women, living in Reni, a tiny Garhwali village nestling in the hills of Uttarakhand, barred a group of men, armed with axes, from entering the forests near their home. The men were timber contractors, working for a sports goods factory, who had been permitted by the state government to cut trees in that land.Photograph by: Avikal Somvanshi
Bali Devi, today a spokesperson of Chipko for the occasional, curious visitor, keeps the spirit of the movement alive in Reni. “We fought off the contractors but we never won. The government is nothing but a contractor. Trees are growing only on paper,” she saidPhotograph by: Avikal Somvanshi
Men were absent then, and men are still absent in today's Reni. The village is populated with just women, kids and really old men. The young trot off to cities to find work, leaving the responsiblity of the village and its resources to be completely handled by the gutsy women of ReniPhotograph by: Avikal Somvanshi