Deforestation, Chipko Movements: Role of Countless Women


Dr Ravi P Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

All over the world forests are being cut or destroyed for development or for infrastructure purposes. Roads, dams, railway lines are being constructed or mining activities occurring  in forest lands; making furniture or ladders or various other items are also obtained from trees. In addition making fire for cooking or heating purposes leads to cutting of trees. In India, the dead who belong to the Hindu faith are cremated by burning the bodies on fire wood. There are several plants or the bark of trees found in forests that form the essence of Ayurvedic form of medicine popular in India, Sri Lanka and neighbouring regions.

In brief, wood obtained from trees found in abundance in forests is necessary in our lives in myriad ways.

For indigenous peoples the importance of forests is even greater since their simple lives are heavily dependent on the availability of trees — be it for obtaining fruits or construction of their simple shelters or for hunting purposes. We should also mention the role of trees in sustenance of our environment — whether in maintaining clean air or for harvesting water or for prevention of landslides etc.

In view of the above factors, the utility of forests in the lives of people cannot be overstated. The benefits in the lives of rural or hilly areas are even more pronounced. For this reason, rural people try to protect forest lands with vigour and determination from wanton and excessive felling of trees.

In India, several movements have occurred and continue even today for the protection of forests especially in the states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in northern India.

One movement that is well known is called the Chipko Andolan (hugging of trees) for the protection of trees against forest mafia as well as against excessive development or mining activities. This movement was started in 1974 in Uttarakhand by several people of the State.  Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Sunderland Bahuguna and others are well known names who spearheaded the movement over several years. The former won the Magsaysay Award in 1982 and the latter was awarded a prestigious civilian award for his efforts in protection of trees in 2009.

The movements were supported in large numbers by local women — Gaura Devi, Sudesha Devi, Radha Bhatt and other intrepid women of the region. In fact due to their determination, the axing of trees was halted; but soon the women realised that if this was stopped during daytime, the cutting continued in a clandestine manner at night time. The women took turns to stop this nefarious activity by their presence at nights and their efforts succeeded in putting a stop to the destruction of their local forests on which their lives were critically dependent.

As mentioned above, Radha Bhatt was also one of the brave women who participated in the Chipko Andolan during the 1970s. Today she is an 84 year old woman who still looks healthy and determined to work for the welfare of people in diverse ways. She was the daughter of an army officer who was sure that his daughter also received formal education although the girls’ school was a few km away from their home. When he was transferred to another station, the school was nearer their home. This allowed Radha to study up to school level.

She has been active in several ways. She walks all over the hilly terrains of north India and proudly claims that she has walked about Seventy Thousand km during her lifetime. She gives tuitions to female children who are deprived of formal schooling for one reason or another. She helps women and children understand the importance of keeping their homes and neighbourhood clean and thereby help in sustaining our Earth. If the women or their children suffer from some illness, she tries helping them even by taking them to nearby clinics or hospitals if first aid that she practices proves inadequate. In brief she is almost like an angel to the remote regions of the country.

Radha Bhatt says that she had briefly met Mahatma Gandhi when she was a child. She had also had a lengthy interaction with a peace activist named Vinoba Bhave who is well known in India for the movement of BhoodanThis Hindi word means donation of land by farmers who had excessive farms to donate some parts of their lands to landless farm workers.

Her interaction with Gandhi, Bhave and other pro-people stalwarts has not only inspired Radha but also given her a lasting vocation for helping villagers especially women and children, in her long life. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. Although she did not get this award, her efforts for helping villagers in various ways, continue with undiminished zeal.

We salute this wonderful personality as well as the other village women for working for peace, harmony and peoples’ welfare.


Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 19 Aug 2019.

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