Pandurang Hegde, Chipko and Appiko, 1988

how the people save the trees




  1. The Legend
  2. From Legend to Reality
  3. The Growth and Development of the Movement
  4. From Chipko to Appiko
  5. An Overall Assessment

Short Glossary


Map Inside back cover [Comming soon as possible!]

[original booklet of 48 p. with 9 photo and a map of India]


Chipko and Appiko are finding their rightful place in the modern annals of nonviolent action. The purpose of QPS’ Nonviolence in Action series is both to inform and inspire those who wish to develop positive alternatives to violence and we believe that the story told by Pandurang Hegde has the power to do so. The Right Livelihood Foundation made an award to the Chipko Movement in December 1987, and we hope that this will increase international interest and recognition still further.

Pandurang Hegde is a personal friend. We worked together on a project in central India. I have watched his development from an able and highly motivated post-graduate to a committed activist. He rejected “the professional approach to rural development” and took the courageous route which starts with “unemployment”. He also took his critical faculties with him.

I asked Pandurang to reflect on the extent to which Chipko had spread in India, to explain its nonviolent methodology and the tensions within the movement, to comment on its class basis and the gender issues. He has done so, and much more. Many of the incidents which he records are unknown outside a very small circle.

We have had to perform our editorial tasks with an author who was last in contact with us several months ago, prior to setting off on a “long forest march” to the source of the Kali Nadi river in south India. We pray that QPS has done justice to his manuscript and brought to life the wonderful human endeavour which it so honestly reviews.

General Secretary
Quaker Peace & Service



In recent years ecological movements have emerged all over the world. The Western countries face the problem of pollution and acid rain, while in the two-thirds world [1] the problem is mainly the depletion of natural resources like forests and soil. People in the developed world are not directly dependent on forests, whereas in much of the two-thirds world people depend directly on forests for survival. This survival is being threatened in India due to the acute environmental crisis, with forest areas shrinking fast. Modern development policies have accelerated the process of the depletion of natural resources, often affecting the poorest groups such as those who live in the forests.

The depletion of forest land on the fragile mountain slopes of the Himalayas increased the workload of the women in the hill villages. As the natural forests were felled to meet industrial needs, these women had to walk long distances to collect fuel, water and fodder for their animals. These were the circumstances which drove poor women to launch a nonviolent movement to save the trees, on which their livelihoods were so dependent. By the novel idea of hugging the trees they saved the forests from the tree fellers. This is now known as the Chipko Andolan or Tree-Hugging Movement.

The Himalayas, one of the world’s youngest mountain ranges, is the source of the north Indian rivers, such as the Ganges and the Yamuna. The Chipko movement has substantially saved the Himalayas. The women succeeded in urging the government to put a moratorium on the felling of living trees. The movement passed through various stages of self-realisation, always adhering to the ideals of nonviolence, and after six years the struggle showed signs of success.

Chipko has spread to many parts of India, and the technique of nonviolence has been effectively practised. Chipko has become the basis for other ecological movements in India and elsewhere; there are instances in Australia and North America where people have followed similar methods.

Many people outside India have heard of Chipko, but there has been little information about the nonviolent side and the internal dynamics of the movement. Chipko methods have been instrumental in developing a strategy for alternative development, so that a more harmonious relationship between humanity and nature can be promoted. The movement has grown from the fertile soil of India’s Gandhian and Sarvodaya tradition. The Chipko experience of ahimsa (non-violence in Sanskrit) may help us all find the way to a wider movement for the care of our global ecology.

Chapter I – The Legend

Many years ago, Amrita Devi lived in a Bishnoi village amidst the deserts of Rajasthan in northern India. The Bishnoi sect seeks to live in harmony with nature; “Bishnoi” literally means “follower of 29 tenets”. One of these tenets is to protect the trees and wild life. As a child Amrita had been taught by her parents that the trees were her elder brothers and sisters; they guarded the village from the attack of sandstorms. Trees give fresh air and water, fodder for cattle and food to human beings.

The area near Amrita’s village was covered with khejari trees, a special tree which thrives in the desert. Amrita loved these trees and each morning she would worship them. Selecting a special tree and placing her hands on the trunk, she would talk to it, saying:

“Tree, you are tall and beautiful. How could we live without you? You guard us, you feed us, you give us the breath of life. Tree, give me your strength to protect you.”

Sometimes other girls and boys of the village would go into the area and worship the trees. They would break into songs praising them. Herds of deer and other creatures would flock near the children to listen. They had no fear of the villagers as hunting and killing were forbidden.

At a young age Amrita was married to a young Bishnoi of Khejarli village, who was also a tree lover. This village was under the rule of the Maharaja of Jodhpur. One day its quietness was broken by the sound of men with axes. The Maharaja was about to build a new palace and was in need of good timber. So he sent people to cut down the trees. As these men paused to sharpen the axes, Amrita, who was churning the milk, saw them. She went to them and requested them not to chop the trees down as it was against the villagers’ faith. The woodcutters said, “If you want to protect your faith, pay a fine.”

Amrita replied, “If I pay the fine it is an insult to my faith. It is cheaper to save the tree itself, even if it costs me my head.” So saying, she put her arms firmly round the tree.

“Stand back”, warned the woodcutters.

“You’ll have to cut me down first”, responded Amrita.

The woodcutters pulled her away and threw her on the ground. Amrita was quick to get up again and hug her tree. The woodman had to hack through her body before he could strike at the trunk of the tree. Amrita was followed by three of her daughters, and Bishnois from the nearby areas came running to hug the trees. The cutters had to hack their way through the bodies of the tree-hugging (Chipko) people.

The woodcutters returned with only a small quantity of timber. The Minister became angry and the Maharaja was kept waiting. “Where have you been all this time?” he demanded. “I sent you to the forest to fetch wood and you return days later almost empty-handed.”

The woodcutters told the Maharaja about the Bishnois hugging the trees. They said: “We had to hack through the bodies of 363 Bishnois to get it.”

The Maharaja demanded, “Are you reporting to me that you were forced to kill 363 of my people? Why didn’t you go somewhere else?”

The cutters replied, “Sir, wherever we went we found these Bishnois hugging the trees.”

Then the Maharaja gave orders to his supervisors to stop work on the new palace. Next day he set out to visit the Bishnoi village. The village leaders prepared gifts of herbs and fruits and went ahead to welcome the Maharaja. On entering the village the Maharaja found the air fragrant with sandalwood, and incense was burning while villagers were saying prayers for those who had given themselves to save the trees.

The Maharaja was deeply impressed that the Bishnois did not complain about the deaths of their people. They even welcomed him in festive mood. He was deeply moved by the nonviolent approach of the Bishnois and he wanted to make amends. He declared that from that day no taxes would be collected, the Bishnoi villages would never be called upon to provide timber and there would be no animal hunting allowed.

This is not a myth. The events took place in the year 1730 in the barren regions of Rajasthan, but over the years they were gradually absorbed into Chipko folklore. Amrita, who with so many others had sacrificed her very life to save the trees, became the first “leader” of the Chipko movement.

Today these Bishnoi villages are still surrounded by their trees, khejari and beech, a green mantle keeping guard against the encroachment of the barren desert. The wild life gives the area the appearance of a sanctuary.

Chapter II – From Legend to Reality

The Chipko story is still remembered by the Bishnois, but was not known to the people of Uttarakhand, in the Garhwal and Kumaon area of the western Himalayas. However, when the forests there were threatened, the idea of hugging their trees occurred to the people, and so the legends surrounding the story of Amrita were re-enacted in modern times.

Himalayas: land and people

The word “Himalaya” means “the land of snow”. The Himalayas are also known as “Daiva Bhoomi”, “the land of God”; from ancient days they were the sacred place for Indian people. The holy river Ganges originates from these snow-clad peaks. The mountains have a spiritual link in people’s minds with the famous pilgrimage centres.

According to geologists, the Himalayas are a young and unconsolidated mountain range, and that is why they have one of the most delicate mountain systems in the world. For thousands of years, this fragile ecosystem evolved its own defence of dense mixed natural forests on the steep slopes, protecting the mountain surface from the direct onslaught of heavy rainfall. The green mantle allowed the absorption of water and delayed its discharge into springs and streams. Settlements in these mountains followed terraced agriculture and animal husbandry. People lived in harmony with nature and respected the sanctity and frail ecological balance of the forests.

This harmonious relationship between Himalayan people and forest started to disintegrate over a century ago when the forests, which had been communally owned, became government property under the British. The felling of the mixed natural forests for commercial and industrial purposes led to a series of social, economic and ecological instabilities. Government policy of exploiting forests for commercial objectives sparked off resistance movements which became part of the nonviolent struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi.

On 30 May 1930 a huge gathering of people assembled on the banks of the river Yamuna at Tilari to protest peacefully and to attempt to restore their right to care for the forests. They were fired upon by soldiers; 17 of them died and 80 were arrested.

After Independence, however, India still followed the British policy on forestry, laying even more emphasis on its commercialisation and revenue-earning capacity. These new leaders introduced the concept of “economic development”, which had its origin in Western countries. The process of disintegration was accelerated, and the stability sustained for thousands of years was destroyed within the span of a century.

During the 1960s pressure on the forests came mainly from two sides: those wishing to “develop” the hilly areas through setting up forest-based industries, which increased the demand for wood, and the population explosion in the region which placed a heavy demand on the forest’s resources. These mutual pressures came, over a period of time, to destroy to a great extent the natural forest cover over the mountains. The India-China War in 1962 and the occupation of Tibet set off a new wave of development in the Uttarakhand region. Funds were pumped in and there was a dramatic increase in the road network, so that hitherto inaccessible forest areas were opened up for further commercial exploitation. This change in the pattern of land use was against local interests. The conversion of mixed forests into a monoculture of pine plantations had a drastic impact on people’s lives, creating a shortage of basic items of survival such as fodder and fuelwood. The potential for their traditional occupations of animal husbandry and hill agriculture was further reduced greatly as the broad-leaved oaks were felled. The consequent erosion caused streams to dry up, and so the water supply was lost. Further, the eroded land was unable to support the additional burden of population.

The drudgery of the hill women

Society in the hills of India has a patriarchal system and traditionally women perform more work than men. Every family has a small landholding, and cattle are kept by each family to supply milk and manure to fertilise the fields. In addition to their household duties the women look after the cattle and till the fields. The roles of men and women are laid down along strict demarcation lines, and men do not assist women in any of these chores except the ploughing.

During the 1950s the villages had an ample supply of drinking water from springs and streams. Older women used to say, “During my childhood fetching water was an easy and joyful task as the springs were nearby, flowing all through the year.” However, with the land becoming less and less able to support its people, there was a steady drain of ablebodied young men away to the army or to the cities down in the plains to look for work. This disrupted the hill villagers’ family lives and additional burdens fell on the women who had to look after the old and the children as well as cultivate the land. The shortage of water made even more of a burden as the women had to trudge further and further for their fuel, fodder and water, sometimes across difficult hilly terrain for as far as 20 kilometers. On the days they went out for these supplies they left their homes early in the morning and returned late in the evening. It was amazing to watch these women climb steep slopes and banks to collect grass and clamber down dangerously with heavy loads on their backs. Occasionally they would slip and fall down the banks into the river. Very often the mothers would have to leave their young children alone at home. Sometimes they would fall into the fire and be burned to death. To prevent this, the mothers would often tie their babies into their cots during the day. There have been several cases of hill women committing suicide, unable to bear this backbreaking life any more.

Sarvodaya (Gandhian) workers and the prohibition campaign

Before his death Mahatma Gandhi called upon some of his followers to settle in the villages to help the rural people. Some Sarvodaya workers accordingly came to live in the hill villages of Uttarakhand. Mira Ben, the daughter of the British Admiral Slade, established her ashram in the Himalayan foothills during the 1940s, and was one of the first people to foresee the consequences of deforestation in the Himalayas.

Sarala Ben, another of Gandhi’s English disciples, set up an ashram in Kausani, also in the Uttarakhand area. She played a crucial role in training a number of devoted women workers along Gandhian lines of nonviolence, giving them practical guidance and encouragement. These Sarvodaya workers also settled in the remote villages and began to create a feeling of self-confidence among the hill women.

The extension of the road network had a drastic effect on the hill economy. In addition to the depletion of forest resources it accelerated the process of exploitation of the rural areas for the benefit of a few urban people. The opening up of liquor shops in these areas made the remaining menfolk even more lethargic, and drained out what little cash was left in poor households.

The Sarvodaya workers started a movement for prohibition, to prevent the sale of alcohol, and this movement penetrated deep into the villages of the hills. The workers devised their own methods of organising and educating the people, and the women activists trained by Sarala Ben played a prominent role in filling the village women with enthusiasm. Although they were normally shy, they had through their household drudgery conquered their fear of violence, and they soon came to understand the principles of nonviolent struggle. They came out of their homes to protest in front of the liquor shops, and joined rallies in large numbers. All the while the Gandhian workers provided leadership and in the end the nonviolent struggle succeeded in forcing the government to enact prohibition in Uttarakhand.

This peaceful struggle enhanced the self-confidence of the hill women, and in every remote village a strong leadership from amongst the women came into existence, the success of “Stree Shakti” or “women’s power”. It was the existence of such leadership and the practical knowledge of nonviolent struggle in action which was to prove to be a great asset in spreading the Chipko movement.

The background of the Chipko movement

The Sarvodaya workers came from average hill families with practical experience of poverty and a hard life. They set up many organisations in the form of labour co-operatives so that livelihoods could be gained through manual work, and they also experimented with community living.

One such labour co-operative organisation was Dashauli Gram Swaraj Mandal (DGSM), established by Sarvodaya workers in 1964 at Gopesh- war in the Chamoli district. Its objective was to give and create local employment near the villages by setting up forest-based small-scale industries. It was led in these efforts by an energetic young man, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, who had left his work as a bus conductor to become a Sarvodaya worker.

The DGSM set up a few industrial workshops to utilise the forest’s resources, but was not in a position to be able to compete at auctions with rich contractors. The big industries were able to gain a larger share at cheaper rates than the DGSM could.

Matters came to a head in 1973 when the forestry department refused the usual supply of ash trees to the DGSM woodcraft unit. For centuries the hill villagers had made their agricultural implements from the light but extremely sturdy ash wood. It was these qualities in the wood which attracted manufacturers of sports goods from the plains. The forestry department preferred to oblige these sports companies despite the cost to the villagers. The DGSM workers protested against this discrimination, so the forestry department offered to give the DGSM pine trees instead. This was an absurd alternative, as pine tree wood is heavy and weak, making it unsuitable for the manufacture of agricultural implements.

In March 1973 the villagers learned that a sports good manufacturer, the Simion Company, had been allotted some ash trees from Mandal Forest, and the DGSM decided that it was time to stand up for its rights.

By coincidence the only accommodation available in Gopeshwar when the agents of the sports company arrived was the DGSM guest house. True to village tradition, the workers helped the agents to settle down in their rooms. The guests retired for the night without any inkling of what was to come.

The next day the agents collected their felling permits. As they made their way towards the forest they could see a large gathering. The DGSM members had come together to work out a strategy to prevent the felling of the trees. Some said, “We should stop these agents and their labourers from entering the forest”. Others suggested that they should lie down in front of the truck that was to take away the fallen trees. One person even made the extreme suggestion that the trees should be burnt down. At last Chandi Prasad Bhatt said, “Our aim is not to destroy the trees but to save them. We will not accomplish this by burning or felling them. Instead, when the woodmen threaten to cut them down, shall we put our arms round the trees and dare the cutters to let their axes fall on our bodies?” All the people raised their hands in unison and shouted, “Yes! We will hang on to the trees”.

The agents saw the defiant mood the people were in and realised that any tree-felling would be an impossible task. So they abandoned the idea, and the trees marked for felling were saved without the people even having to embrace them. Thus on 27 March 1973 the DGSM’s campaign to find a nonviolent method of saving the wealth of the forests came into being. The Chipko Andolan (Hugging Movement in Hindi) was born, and was to become the symbol of the conservation protest.

The Simion Company agents went on to Phata, 80 kilometres from Gopeshwar, where the forestry department was allowing them to fell ash trees. Again, it was a conflict of interests between village and commerce. DGSM workers contacted many villagers, and the people decided to practise the Chipko ideal there too. Chandi Prasad Bhatt helped to organise people into forming an action committee, and in the end the agents had to leave Phata without felling even one tree. They realised that Chipko was spreading fast and had the full support of the local people.

This success spurred the Chipko activists on to more intensive campaigning among the remote villages. They found that the women were more interested than the men in saving the trees. The reason was obvious; as we have seen, the women were the main victims of deforestation.

An offshoot of this dynamic situation was the Reni struggle, where eventually women took the lead in saving the forests.

Reni: women lead the struggle

Reni is a small village tucked away on the Indo-Tibetan border near the snow-clad peaks of the western Himalayas. The forests there formed an integral part of the catchment area of the Alakananda, a tributary of the Ganges. The state forestry department marked 3000 trees in these forests for felling and auctioned them to a contractor.

The villagers were aware of the dangers of cutting down more trees in an already denuded area. They were determined to struggle peacefully to save the remaining ones. They established contacts with Chandi Prasad Bhatt, and he informed the forest officials that the local people would use Chipko methods to prevent any felling. However, the officials ignored his plea and the auction was completed. Bhatt then informed the contractor of the determination of the Reni villagers to stop the felling. Although the contractor knew about Chipko and its struggle with the Simion Company, he thought that they could manage to fell the trees by force, so he scoffed at Bhatt’s words.

The DGSM organised villagers near Reni to launch a long struggle to save the forests. However, the government employed some dubious tactics to entice the men away from the village so they could send in the woodcutters, as the following incident shows. On 26 March 1974 all the men were called away from Reni to the nearby Chamoli district headquarters to be paid some overdue compensation. As the men were away the women were busy with household chores. A girl who was minding cattle spotted some labourers marching towards the forest with axes and saws. Goura Devi, a woman in her fifties who had been a widow since childhood and had been accepted by the village women as their leader, was informed of this. Within minutes she had assembled 21 women, and they all rushed together into the forest. Goura Devi addressed the tree- fellers:

“Brothers, this forest is our maternal home. From this we satisfy so many of our needs. Do not destroy it. If you do, landslides will ruin our homes and fields.”

Goura Devi pleaded with the labourers to come down to the village and settle matters with the menfolk. However, some of the contractor’s men were already intoxicated with alcohol. They tried to take liberties with the women, while others shouted at them for obstructing their work. A drunken man armed with a gun staggered towards the unarmed, pleading women, trying to frighten them. As he aimed at Goura Devi, she stood quietly, challenging him to fire:

“Shoot us, only then will you be able to cut down this forest which is like a mother to us.”

This unnerved most of the labourers, and they went back by the track from which they had come. Only the drunken labourers remained, but they were soon sober enough to realise that their companions had gone. Shame and fear began creeping over them, and they also started to go back with their tools. The women carried the tools of those who were still faltering.

The contractor and the forest officials were disappointed. The women of Reni kept constant vigil on all the forest routes throughout the night. The menfolk of Reni returned the following morning and the people from the surrounding villages gathered together, determined to save the forest. There was no chance for the contractor to enter the forest. The trees marked for felling were saved.

Later the state government appointed an official committee, headed by Dr. Virendra Kumar, a Delhi botanist, to enquire into the validity of the demands of the Chipko movement. The committee went into an in-depth study and recommended that there should be a moratorium on the commercial exploitation of Reni and the other forests of the Ganges catchment area for a decade.

Chapter III – The Growth and Development of the Movement

The Economic Phase

The success of the Chipko movement from 1973 onwards increased the confidence of the Sarvodaya workers and villagers. Their next demand was to stop the contractor system of felling trees.

These contractors dominated economic and political life in the hill regions. A patch of forest would be auctioned off to them. The contractors then involved themselves in excessive illegal felling to earn extra money. This illegal activity rarely came to light, and even when traced no action was taken against the offenders. Such illegal activities in actual fact often involved collusion between forestry department officials and contractors. This collusion was responsible for a widespread form of corruption, which spread as far up the scale as officials in the state capital, and also the political representatives in Parliament; these contractors provided the best source of easy finance for the candidates of various political parties during election times. Thus it was that the existing political, economic and official structures were instrumental in depleting the forests of the Himalayas. The Chipko people demanded an end to the contractor system and pressed for timber extraction to be done through local labour co-operatives.

The government agreed to their demand, and in 1974 formed the Uttar Pradesh Forest Development Corporation to replace the contractor system, and to encourage timber extraction through co-operatives as requested. The Chipko people then asked that forests be auctioned in smaller lots, so that local people of small means could also bid for them. This helped the better-off villagers, but proved to be dangerous for the Chipko movement as it created strong vested interests among the local population who had begun to gain from the commercial exploitation of the forests. To add to this, the contractors joined the forestry department officials in forming fake labour co-operatives, and thus the contractor system started to reappear in a different form.

The activists of the Chipko movement saw the exploitative conditions under which the forest labourers lived, and one of them, Dhum Singh Negi, lived amongst the labourers from 1974 to 1976 and helped them organise themselves for a better deal. In 1976 the Minimum Wages Act was amended by the government; the piece rate doubled from 15 to 30 rupees. Legislation was introduced to bring in other measures to improve welfare and condition. The efforts of the Chipko activists amongst the labourers won them over and a situation was created whereby the onetime enemy (the state government) became an ally of the Chipko movement. It seems that an integral part of any nonviolent struggle is that it should include total faith in “the other side”.

The demand for more raw materials for local small-scale industries resulted in a few prospering in Uttarakhand, but they could not make much impact on the local level of unemployment, nor did it reduce the flow of able-bodied men away from the hills.

An isolated case of violence

Over a span of five years the Chipko movement spread to eight districts in the Himalayas, an area of about 51,080 square kilometres with a population of 4.8 million people. In most places it was inspired by peaceful Sarvodaya ideology, and requests for assistance in launching Chipko came from various parts of the Himalayas to an ashram at Silyara run by Sunderlal Bahuguna, one of the Sarvodaya leaders. Silyara, along with Gopeshwar, became the main centres of the Chipko movement in the Himalayas and eventually were able to employ two full-time staff members. The Chipko activists kept the movement free for the most part from an actively political element. However, when the movement reached Nainital, a different kind of ideology took over.

Nainital, situated in the Kumaon hills, is a very well-known hill station in India. Though it was only a small town, it was a centre of learning and attracted many young people from the surrounding hill areas. These youngsters, along with teachers of left-wing leaning, formed a group which was angry at the exploitation of the forests by outside contractors and the demands of industry.

In October 1977 the leaders of the Chipko movement there organised a big rally and demonstration against the proposed auctioning of the local forests for felling. As a result the forestry department postponed the auction and a new date was fixed: 28 November. As the date of the auction drew nearer the state administration took steps to ward off any protests. Meanwhile the state Forestry Minister visited Nainital. After making a survey of the forest areas he declared that the silvicultural regulations were being adhered to, and no serious ecological damage would be caused by the felling of the trees. Armed police were brought into the town and paraded to show the activists the might of government force. On the night of 27 November the administration issued warrants for the arrest of the movement’s prominent leaders; subsequently they went underground.

The following day a group gathered in Nainital Market and started singing songs of anger against the tree felling. They warned the officials to stop the auction and the armed police squad surrounded the demonstration. More and more people joined the demonstration and some of the leaders were forcibly arrested and whisked away. This violent clash between demonstrators and police sparked off a series of attacks, and as the leaders had been arrested, there was no-one left to guide the demonstration. The police opened fire, and used tear gas and lathis (truncheons) on the demonstrators, some of whom retaliated by setting fire to the Nainital Club, where the auction was to have taken place, gutting it completely.

The leaders of the Chipko movement issued a strong statement condemning the violence and denied their involvement in this incident. There were various factors which had caused it. The left-wing radical young people believed in confrontation, and furthermore, the urban surroundings created a different level of response from the participants. The experience of the Chipko movement in general shows that the participation by villagers themselves, and women in particular, is crucial in maintaining an atmosphere of nonviolence.

This was the first and only violent incident in Chipko’s history, and is a black spot on the story of the struggle which on the whole maintained its nonviolent stand. Unfortunately the government administration and the forestry officials were quick to allege that “the Chipko movement is indulging in arson and violence”, and this tragic incident is used time and again to malign it.

The myths of “development” and “male leadership”

By 1977 Chipko faced a crossroads. It was already four years old and had succeeded in fulfilling most of its economic aims. It had forced the state government to stop the contractor system and to provide more raw materials for forest-based industries. The activists had also succeeded in improving wages and conditions for those who laboured in the forests.

However, all these activities made very little impact on the hill economy. Unemployment increased and the migration to the plains continued. Hardship increased too as the denuding of the hillsides led to landslides and flash floods. In fact, the dream of so-called “economic development” visualised by the Sarvodaya workers led instead to a total destabilisation of the Himalayas’ ecological balance. The Sarvodaya workers watched in agony as the women’s hardship, already great as we have seen, was increased so that their attention was consequently sidetracked from Chipko ideology. The male-dominated leadership of the Sarvodaya movement used the support of the women but they never really tried to understand the reasons behind their active participation, nor did they realise that it was because of the women’s presence that the workers were able to keep the movement nonviolent.

It is a pity that such active support from the women was only used as a medium by the Sarvodaya workers to propagate their ideology of “development”. Gradually the workers learned their mistake; their eyes were opened by two instances which marked the end of the “economic phase” of the Chipko movement and the beginning of the “ecological phase”.

The wide-ranging differences in the perceptions of men and women came out openly in Dungri Paitoli, a village in the district of Chamoli. The state administration proposed a project of establishing a potato seed farm near the village. To do this they had to clear a patch of forest. The village headmen and others were in favour of this, hoping that the setting-up of such a farm would bring more money to the village, and they gained permission to destroy the forest patch.

The village women, however, had a totally different view of this kind of “development”. They gathered fuelwood and fodder from this forest; its destruction would mean more work for them in searching for these staple necessities. As far as these women were concerned, “development” should ensure the provision of fuel, fodder and water nearer at hand, not further away.

Conflict ensued as the women started a peaceful, yet determined struggle to save their forest, and they had to revolt against their own menfolk. The Sarvodaya workers from DGSM, including Chandi Prasad Bhatt, came in the support of the women, and eventually the men had to give in.

The ecological phase: soil, water and pure air

In November 1977, the forestry department marked out 640 trees for felling in Tehri Garhwal, near the village of Advani. The villagers resolved to stop the felling, and the women tied a sacred thread round the fated trees. Tying a sacred thread (Rakhee) is a symbolic gesture in Hindu custom, confirming the bond of brother-sister relationship, and was thus a sign of solidarity, declaring that the trees would be saved even if it cost the women their lives.

The forestry officer visited the village, and tried to persuade the women of the benefits of such “scientific” felling, but without success. Eventually he said, “You foolish village women, do you know what these forests bear? Resin, timber, and therefore foreign exchange!” And he insisted that this was the way that development would reach the hill villages. However, the women presiding over the meeting gave him a quick response:

“Yes, we know. What do the forests bear? Soil, water and pure air, Soil, water and pure air, Are the basis of life.”

This was echoed by the hundreds of men, women and children who were gathered in the meeting, and as the forestry officer left empty- handed to report to higher authorities, the villagers were left bubbling with enthusiasm for this new Chipko slogan.

The following day the same officer came back with a vehicle full of armed police, and the hired labourers were asked to pick up their axes and saws. The assembled villagers formed themselves into groups of three and four and each group surrounded a marked tree. Whenever the labourers advanced towards a particular tree, the group would clasp their arms firmly around its thick trunk. The woodcutters could not fell a single tree.

The police force had no answer for this unique form of tree protection. The only way was to drag away from the trees each person who was hugging them and then make an arrest. All the while the people continued to affirm the way of nonviolence, repeatedly shouting slogans such as:

“No matter what the attack is on us, Our hands will not rise in violence! The policemen are our brothers, Our fight is not with them.”

The police had no fear that the people would show violence towards them, but they were unable to take any drastic action against a gathering that showed such warmth and friendship towards them, and who kept reassuring them that their only intention was to protect the trees, not to create any disturbance. After waiting for several hours the officials consulted one another and decided to move away. Some of the police congratulated the people on their success. As the vehicles roared away, the joyous people reassembled to convey their first and last message: “We will offer our own bodies before the axes fall on the trees.”

These two incidents illustrate how the Chipko activists confronted opposition with nonviolence and achieved success and a consequent increase in self-confidence. They were very clear in their purpose and for them officialdom, even in the form of armed police, was not the appropriate target. There was no trace of anger in their minds, and their warmth and affection won the policemen’s hearts. Thus a tense situation was defused. The Sarvodaya leaders began to recognise the impact the women were making, and Sunderlal Bahuguna, a white-bearded man with sparkling eyes, was quick to make amends, declaring, “From now on I will be the messenger of these women; they are the true leaders.”

By 1978, after a spate of “natural” disasters, caused by landslides which affected communities as far as 500 kilometres downstream, the Sarvodaya workers came to realise that the exploitation of the Himalayan forests had been so severe that the area would require decades of rest. Henceforward the movement began to seek a complete moratorium on commercial tree felling and other such enterprises in such a fragile ecosystem as the Himalayan foothills.

The arrest of the Chipko women

The Chipko activists of Tehri Garhwal then decided to prevent more trees from being auctioned off. Protest demonstrations were planned in Narendranagar. The people, consisting mainly of women from the village, entered the hall where the auction was to take place and demanded that the auction be cancelled. They declared they would leave only when this had been done. The assembled officials and contractors fled as soon as they saw the demonstrators, although there were in fact only 25 of them, hand-picked and well-trained in dealing with situations of confrontation. Among them were young mothers with babies and aged women who had participated in the earlier prohibition struggles of the 1960s. Despite the presence of armed police the demonstrators remained totally nonviolent, singing Chipko songs. They were arrested and imprisoned for a fortnight, and while they were in jail they continued to sing Chipko songs and read the Bhagwat Katha, an inspiring Hindu myth dealing with the problem of suffering. These activities kept their morale high, and when they were released unconditionally they were received back in the villages as great heroines of the Chipko struggle.

What happened in Badiyargad

Badiyargad is a fair-sized village 30 kilometres from Srinagar. The forestry department auctioned trees for felling in the nearby Malgadai forests, so the alert villagers invited Chipko activists to come and help them. The activists started organising the villagers, and as the movement got under way, the forestry department took the divisive measure of renting the houses of influential villagers at high rates as a covert bribe. However, the women and the Chipko activists spent their nights out in the open forest in the bitter winter cold, and their undaunted efforts encouraged people from nearby villages to come and save the forest. The labourers’ task of felling was impossible when faced with this group, who ranged in age from 85-year-old Chander Singh down to eight-year-old Nariender.

The movement gained momentum once the Sarvodaya leader Sun- derlal Bahuguna arrived. He went on an indefinite fast to demand a moratorium on the felling of green trees for commercial purposes. He began his fast under a tree, but was arrested and imprisoned. After 64 days he broke his fast when the state government agreed to hold discussions on the question of a moratorium.

The forestry department then stopped all felling operations in Badiyargad, and then even prevented the villagers from collecting dry wood for cooking. Officials said, “It is the movement which demanded this moratorium, so we will not allow you to take wood for cooking either.” This tactic created a degree of antagonism against Chipko, and was only relaxed at a later stage.

Chipko: “Enemy” of science, development and democracy

The forestry administrators, backed by their scientists and development experts, then started a sustained propaganda exercise in the media, alleging that Chipko’s request for a moratorium on tree-felling must mean that the movement was against scientific advancement. They said that they were following scientific methods of forestry, and that any opposition was equal to an anti-scientific stand. They also said that the Chipko movement was standing in the way of the development of the Himalayas by discarding the concept of forest-based industries and the utilisation of local resources to generate income and employment. Moreover, the government had passed the agreement on forestry policy in the state assembly, and to oppose such a policy was tantamount to opposing the elected democratic institution. The press took up this stand, particularly the city-based journalists who were unable to see the reasons behind the movement’s ecological outlook.

It was a testing time in general for the Chipko workers themselves as many branches of the movement opted for differing approaches. Some clung to the economic idea of local industries in the forests, whereas others could see the sense in the ecological stand. The government used these disagreements as a means of adopting a “divide and rule” policy for its own benefit, allotting more resources to those who took up the economic approach, and increasing further the splits in the Chipko movement. However, in 1980, the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, agreed to the demand for a ban on the commercial felling of living trees, and recommended that it should last for 15 years in the Uttar Pradesh area of the Himalayas.

As the long struggle came to an end, Sunderlal Bahuguna organised a Trans-Himalayan Chipko March from Kashmir to Kohima, through 4870 kilometres of the Himalayan region. The main objectives were to spread the message of Chipko to other villages, and see what their situations were. It was completed in three stages from May 1981 to March 1983. People from all over India walked with Bahuguna and the message of Chipko spread to other parts of India. Thus a small movement which started in the Himalayas became a national call to save the forests and seek alternative methods of development.

The restoration of the trees

While the Sarvodaya workers were caught up in the divisions amongst Chipko followers, hill women down in the valleys of the Tehri Garhwal district were quietly evolving their own techniques of forestry management to restore the trees. They came together, irrespective of class and caste, to appoint a particular woman to guard their local patch of forest, usually a woman from the poorest background. Each family contributed grain towards the woman’s payment, and this guard was in charge of the forest, seeing that unauthorised cutting did not take place, and that cattle were not allowed to graze there. She would also plant seedlings of fodder or fuelwood trees, and inform others if fire should break out.

Forest management of this kind has become part and parcel of the lives of these women, and one can find such a system in other villages in the region. Even around the city of Gopeshwar the women have formed a group to keep watch, by day and night, and the oak forests along the steep slopes are a balm to the eye. Statistically it is not possible to measure the impact this spontaneous movement has made, but it is demonstrably significant around at least eight districts of Uttarakhand.

Afforestation camps

Dashauli Gram Swaraj Mandal, under the leadership of Chandi Prasad Bhatt, then began organising afforestation camps in the villages. Fifty to 60 participants, mainly women and students, worked at building walls to protect a barren patch of land, and they also dug pits to plant new saplings. This afforestation was a great success, and a survival rate of 90% was achieved. This surprised the people, as the rate of survival in the forestry department’s plantation was only 40%. This success was due to the active interest taken by the women and children in caring for the saplings, whereas the forestry department’s plantation did not involve the people themselves. In addition, the men were in favour of planting trees that would yield a cash income, whereas the women were in favour of trees for fuel. In terms of practical forestry strategy the Chipko movement spoke out against commercial monoculture, with the planting of pines or other fast-growing species that earned quick revenue while robbing the land of its fertility. Instead, Chipko activists pressed for a positive approach, and the planting of mixed indigenous broad-leaved trees that would increase the fertility of the soil and prevent further erosion. The Chipko movement has evolved a philosophy popularly known as the “Five Fs”, denoting the valuable products that should form the criteria for deciding what should be planted: trees that would produce Fruit, Fuel, Fodder, Fertiliser and Fibre. Trees fulfilling these criteria could help a village economy towards self-reliance as visualised by Mahatma Gandhi.

The success of these afforestation camps was due to the determined efforts of the hill women under the guidance of Chandi Prasad Bhatt. As a result of his initiative in afforestation, Bhatt was awarded the prestigious Magsaysay Award. This prize, sometimes compared to the Nobel Prize, is held in high esteem in Asia. It is given to an Asian for outstanding work for humanity.

The two branches of Chipko

As the years have gone by, the Chipko Movement itself has acquired two distinct streams of thought, personified by its two leaders, Chandi Prasad Bhatt (born 1934) from Gopeshwar, who pioneered the movement, and Sundarlal Bahuguna (1927-2021) from Silyara in the Tehri region. The operational style of these leaders is totally different. While Bhatt is a grass-roots worker and believes mainly in organizing the people, Bahuguna a journalist, is a publicist par excellence. Though Bahuguna has also organized some protest activities in his region – for instance, Chipko activists in Henwal Ghati once went to the forest to bandage wounded trees with mud and sacking to protest against the indiscriminate tapping of pine trees – his main focus has been on spreading the message of Chipko far and wide. In 1981, Bahuguna started on a foot march from Kashmir to Kohima to campaign against deforestation.

Bhatt, on the other hand, has dug deep roots in the Chamoli region. He is, as a result, far less well known than Bahuguna. Bhatt has realized that it the local village communities have the right to control their surrounding resources, they must also undertake to conserve and develop those resources. So he has organized the country’s largest voluntary afforestation programme through eco-development camps. These camps bring together local villagers, students and social workers who have planted over a million trees. The survival rate of these Chipko plantations has been an astonishing 85 to 90 percent in most cases. Bahuguna, however, tends to dismiss this activity as irrelevant at this stage of the movement, concentrating all his writing and speaking power against the forest departments.

The two leaders differ not just In their operational styles but also in their philosophy with respect to the use of forests. Bahuguna is fiercely ecological in approach. The re-greening of forests is the top priority – a matter of national defence – for him. For instance, he argues that the main objective of forest management in Himachal Pradesh should be soil and water conservation: forests, he says, do not produce timber, resin and foreign exchange but soil, water and pure air. The self-sufficiency of the hill people in food, clothing and shelter is important to Bahuguna but secondary to the major ecological objectives.

For Bhatt, however, the search for a new eco-development process for the region and the involvement of the local people are primary issues. “Saving the trees is only the first step in the Chipko Movement”, says Bhatt. “Saving ourselves is the real goal. Our future is tied up with them”.

Bhatt, therefore, wants forest resources to be used in a manner that is both environmentally and developmentally sound – in other words, while the environment is preserved, the benefits of the controlled exploitation accrue to the local people, a process in which decentralized economic growth and ecological conservation go hand in hand.

Notwithstanding the divergent opinions of these leaders, the real strength of the movement is the women of the region. Except for a few “organized” events, the Chipko Movement essentially consists of a string of spontaneous confrontations in which none of the so-called leaders is present.

Excerpt from Shobita Jain, Standing up for trees, Women’s role in the Chipko Movement, 1982

Chapter IV – From Chipko to Appiko

The novelty of embracing the trees did not confine itself to the Himalayan foothills. As a bird on migration, after several years the movement reached the Western Ghats in the south of India. This mountain range runs parallel to the west coast of India for 1600 kilometres and the associated belt of forest stretches from Gujerat in central India towards Kerala in the south. These are technically known as “tropical forests” and cover most of the lower slopes of the Western Ghats. Ecologically it is a very sensitive area, for several major rivers of south India originate from this forest belt, and the mountains play an important role in attracting the monsoon rains.

The district of North Kanara in Karnataka is part of this richly-forested area. In the seventeenth century the forests were communally owned and a major source of employment there was the collection of spices, particularly pepper, which was of such a high quality that the area was known as the “Pepper Queen”. When the British took over this area in 1801 they were attracted by the commercial potential of the forests and took the ownership away from the communities. In 1831 the people took part in a spontaneous protest in the first struggle to gain control over the region’s natural resources. It was crushed in 1837 with the help of army troops, as recorded in the Kanara Gazetteer (old spelling) of 1881, but similar protests continued, based in latter days on Gandhian principles of nonviolence and non-cooperation. After Independence the new government pursued a similar policy to that of the British, emphasising the commercial potential of the forests. Then along came new ideas for developing this so-called “backward” district.

Major industries of pepper and plywood were introduced, and in the late 1920s huge hydro-electric dams were constructed which submerged large tracts of land, both forest and agricultural. These major development schemes not only displaced many people but had an adverse impact on the ecosystem; within 30 years the forest area was reduced from 81% to 25%. Exploitation of natural resources on such a massive scale also caused a drastic change in the pattern of rainfall. In rainfed agricultural systems, the timing of rainfall is crucial. If the seeds are sown at the right time, an evenly spread rainfall helps to provide a good harvest. However, since the 1960s the number of rainy days has decreased considerably [2]. There are case studies which prove that in five talukas (administrative areas) of the Uttara Kannada district, the average amount of rainfall has decreased over a period of 20 years [3].

The forests were replaced with plantations of teak and eucalyptus. Neither of these trees produce good foliage for animals, nor litter to fertilise the soil. Cattle will not eat the leaves, and eucalyptus grows with a straight stem and has no side-branches that can be used for fuel. The local herbs and medicinal plants that used to grow in the forests could not survive in the barren soil, nor did the famous pepper.

In the North Kanara district, in a gentle valley of the Western Ghats, lies the small village of Salkani. The forest near this village is known as the “goddess forest” and it is traditional to worship the forest deity here. Every year the people gather there to worship and share food. Over the years the increasing development and exploitation had given rise to concern, and the people gained nationwide support for a movement which successfully prevented the setting up of a hydro-electric dam on the river Bedthi.

In April 1983 the people were shocked to realise the full extent of the devastation that had taken place in their forest. The forestry department had allowed the local plywood factory to fell trees there, and what had once been thick forest had become a barren site. The villagers noted also that the streams, on which they depended for their smallholdings, were drying up. They discussed the felling issue amongst themselves and decided to write letters of protest to the forestry department and the relevant government ministers.

At the same time a youth club in the neighbouring village of Gubbigadde was also concerned about local deforestation, having heard of plans to clear 40 hectares of natural forest to plant teak. A great deal of forest had already been cleared in that area, so the youth club took on the responsibility of organising village protest meetings. They also wrote to the forestry officials, and were told in reply that they must not hinder the forest clearance which was being done in accord with “scientific principles”.

While all this was going on the Chipko leader, Sunderlal Bahuguna, arrived in Karnataka. The youth club invited him to speak in Gubbigadde, which he did on 15 August. The concerned audience, including those from nearby villages, asked various questions about saving the forests, and Bahuguna told them about the nonviolent Chipko movement approach taken in the Himalayas.

The forestry department realised this was happening and so, when they started felling trees in early September, they chose the remote Kalase forest rather than the Salkani or Gubbigadde areas. However, the news soon reached the two villages, and on 8 September 160 men, women and children started walking to the forest. It was raining as they entered it, and leeches clung to their feet and sucked their blood but, undeterred, they hurried on to the spot where the woodcutters were camping. Some were already on their way to start work, but were overtaken by a group who rushed to the first tree and embraced its trunk before the man could reach it. This action puzzled the woodcutters, and their leader asked:

“Why are you embracing the trees and stopping us from cutting them down?”

One of the activists explained their reasons, to which the leader replied:

“We have been felling trees for years. We know the consequences; drought and famine will follow and yes, you may have to leave your villages because there will be a shortage of water. But you should have started this ten years ago. There is only a small patch of forest left to clear now.”

But one of the other woodcutters said:

“Even if only a few of you come, we can still stop our felling. We are employed by the forestry department, but from now on we will only cut down the trees after the officials have settled the matter with you.”

Accordingly on 22 September the district forest officer came to Salkani with a team of scientists and influential public leaders. A village meeting was held, and the officer demanded that the tree-embracing should cease, saying that the trees were being felled in accordance with scientific principles and that it was necessary to meet the fuel demands of the nearby town. The people stood resolute, however, and insisted that the forest be inspected before any further discussions on felling took place.

The whole visiting team walked into the forest, along with some of the villagers, and one of the scientists conducted a detailed study of the area. Later he submitted a report agreeing that excessive damage was in fact being caused, and that the people should be complimented for having brought this to the notice of the authorities.

This report boosted the activists’ morale, especially when subsequent newspaper reports highlighted the Chipko movement. Within days it was launched in various other forest areas under the title of Appiko, the local dialect version of “hugging” or “embracing”.

Chipko and Appiko

Both Chipko and Appiko adopted a common approach to save the remaining forests, but there the similarity between the two movements ended, for reasons both geographic and economic.

In the Himalayas the effects of deforestation show themselves quickly in landslides, but in the Western Ghats such effects are rare. In the Himalayas the women are the main sufferers as they lack fuelwood and fodder; in Karnataka there is no such shortage in spite of the felling, and the women are better off. The crisis in Karnataka was more related to the impact of exploiting the forests upon the ecological balance, and it was the upsetting of this balance which has had a serious effect on livelihoods and agriculture.

The Chipko movement had a firm background with the help of the Sarvodaya workers who worked in the region for almost 30 years, and the leadership of such charismatic people as Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Sun- derlal Bahuguna. There was no such base in Karnataka, where Appiko was started by a youth group which had previously been successful only in tackling local problems of drinking and gambling. The author of this book, Pandurang Hegde, was one of their number who had come in contact with the Chipko movement whilst a student in Delhi.

It is important also to remember that the disintegration of the North Kanara forests only goes back to the 1950s, whereas in the Himalayas it started over a century ago, and to re-establish the links between man and nature there is a tough task. The Appiko people were able to draw on the long experience and goodwill of the Chipko activists, avoiding the pitfalls they had suffered, particularly by keeping the Appiko movement out of the narrow political arena and choosing broad ecological objectives.

Nonviolence in action

Husri is another small village in the Karnataka area, consisting of 45 families all heavily dependent on marginal farming to make a living, and using leaf litter as fertiliser. They suffered a major setback in 1969, when 900 acres of forest were cleared near the village so that eucalyptus could be planted. There were shortages of fuelwood, leaf litter and wood for farming equipment, and the same problems of the loss of herbs and medicinal plants, and decreased rainfall.

In October 1983 the forestry department sent their woodcutters to chop down more trees near Husri, and, as in Salkani, the people marched into the forest and embraced the trees so that the felling had to come to a halt. The contractor went to the forest office, and the forest officer came out to the people and held discussions, saying that Sirsi town needed fuelwood. The people responded:

“Once the trees are felled there will be no wood left for our agricultural implements nor for fertiliser. Where shall we go for it?”

The officer said that more trees were being planted. Immediately came the rejoinder:

“You are only planting teak and eucalyptus, and these trees do not provide fertiliser or fodder.”

As the discussion continued, the officer told them that he was unable to give orders to stop the felling. Some people wanted to attack the officer and block his path for the rest of the day, but the organisers of Appiko pointed out the futility of such violent action, which would only lead to corresponding violence on the part of the police as they tried to free the officer. Moreover, the officer was an individual who was not capable of changing policy on his own. The goal of Appiko was to bring about change in forest policy as a whole, and it would be better to ask the officer to write to his superiors and the Minister of Forestry, who did have the power. This intervention prevented violence breaking out, and people came to see the officer as a human being who was only doing his duty.

This nonviolent approach was instrumental in bringing success; the Appiko movement drew support and attention throughout the state, and by December of that year it had spread to eight specific forest areas in North Kanara. Newspapers and magazines carried articles on the movement, and in the last week of that month the state government sent the Minister of Forestry, Jeevijaya by name, to inspect the whole of the North Kanara area.

The Forestry Minister’s visit

Jeevijaya came to Sirsi and held discussions with the townsfolk; then he went on to the forest areas of Bilgal, where he was joined by about 400 people who took him to the teak plantation. An old man presented a bunch of eupatorium flowers (known locally as “blue mist”) to the Minister, as a symbolic present, because this weed has flourished in Karnataka wherever the trees have been felled.

Once at the plantation, the people showed the Minister the dry soil which did not allow undergrowth to thrive, and then took him to a place of natural forest to show him the difference. An hour-long meeting was held under the trees, during which questions were asked to which the officials could give only halting answers. He also visited Kalase forest, where Appiko methods had first been used, and at the end of his visit agreed that the present tree felling was responsible for the destruction of the forests, and that policy would be changed, keeping the ecological aspects in mind. He assured the people that no further forest clearance would be allowed in either Bilgal or Kalase, and gave specific orders to stop the felling where trees had already been marked for this purpose. The Minister told the people that in future only dry and dead trees could be cut down. All this in a short span of six months was a great success for the Appiko movement, and strengthened the confidence of the local people who saw what their own nonviolent efforts could achieve.

Appiko spreads

Within three years the movement had spread to the districts of Shimoga, Sagar Taluka and South Kanara, also in Karnataka state. In South Kanara the people turned to Appiko methods to save themselves from a deadly disease known as “Kyasanoor Forest Disease” or “Monkey virus” which had taken the lives of 200 of the forest inhabitants and was mainly caused by deforestation. Health experts from the National Institute of Virology in Pune confirmed the probability of the link between the denuding of the forests and the spread of this disease. Accordingly, the locals asked the Appiko activists for help.

Here, the movement used familiar rural communication techniques to spread the message. In the initial stages support came through the giving of daily contributions of handfuls of grain towards the movement. This simple act, known as “Sarvodaya Patra”, reinforced the cause of struggle and encouraged people to support it. Groups of villagers performed street plays to spread the message, and the traditional folk theatre of Karnataka, known as Yakshagana, was adapted so that it spread the message of nature conservation, with the theme of “harmony with nature for eternal prosperity”. This traditional folk drama attracted a great deal of attention across the state.

Such efforts have borne rich fruit amongst the illiterate villagers; there were regular nonviolent actions carried out to save the tropical forests in 1984 and 1985.


None of this, however, was achieved without problems. The main one was the reaction from contractors and bureaucrats who held vested interests in the demolition of the forests. They tried to instigate violence by deliberately provoking the locals, and even tried to bribe the police into registering false accusations. However, the people kept quiet in the face of these provocations, and the police declined to co-operate with the contractors.

Then the forestry officials started a sustained propaganda campaign in the press, dubbing Appiko as “unscientific” and “against development”. They claimed that the people themselves were solely responsible for destroying the forests. The local politicians tried to make use of the Appiko movement for their own ends, seeking to infiltrate a core group and bring pressure to bear in the taking of decisions. However, the strength of Appiko rested in its decentralised groups, rather than in a central committee. The strong determination and will of the activists kept the politicians from leading or dominating any one particular group, nor were they allowed any part of the decision-making process.


The Appiko movement is struggling to find an alternative development strategy to establish a harmonious relationship between humanity and nature. To achieve this they seek three objectives:

— Preservation of the remaining tropical forests of the Western Ghats, through bringing a basic change in the policy of forest management, so that commercial, revenue-based interests are replaced by ecological perspectives;

— The regeneration of natural forests and the replanting of indigenous green trees;

— Bringing about a basic change of attitude in people’s minds, so that lopping trees in the rainy season would be discouraged, and alternative energy sources such as improved stoves and biogas plants would be explored instead.

To help accomplish these objectives, an informal institution, the Parisara Sanrakshana Kendra (Environmental Conservation Centre) was started in Sirsi by various activists from village groups. The Appiko movement has also made some headway in regenerating the forests, but as yet it has not achieved the goal of changing policy on forestry management. Felling has only been stopped where Appiko is strong, in the forest areas around Sirsi, and the movement has a long way to go before complete harmony between humanity and nature is established.

Chipko continues to extend

Meanwhile, the Chipko women continued to keep their constant vigil over the forests. The government had put a ban on the commercial felling of trees, but dead ones were still allowed to come down. However, the people discovered that living trees were being felled in places where only dead ones should have been, especially in the areas of Tehri and Chainoli in north India. In recent years, therefore, the Chipko activists have resisted the felling of dry and dead trees as well, and urged a total ban except where it was necessary to meet acceptable local needs.

In a span of 14 years Chipko methods have spread to various parts of India, particularly through the publicity gained by the Trans-Himalayan March mentioned in Chapter III. In Kashmir, for example, large pine plantations became weak and were uprooted by winter storms, due to extensive resin-tapping activity, and contractors were allowed to remove the fallen trees. However, it was found that they were at the same time felling live trees as well, so the Chipko action group which had been formed there by a young advocate brought this irregularity to the notice of the authorities. Orders were accordingly given that such illegal felling should be stopped.

Himachal Pradesh too, a small Himalayan state, was once thickly forested, but the trees there were coming down. The exception was the area around Simla, once the summer capital for the British, who can take some credit that the trees had been protected to ensure a regular water supply for the town. This is still one of the excellent forest regions of the Himalayas, so the forestry officials, with an eye to quick cash results, started the process of converting them into commercial timber plantations of pine and eucalyptus. A young man from Chamba, Kulbhushan Upamanyu, took the lead in organising local resistance, uprooting the pine saplings and replacing them with broad-leaved trees instead. These trees were common to the area, were found all over the region, and fulfilled the criteria of the “Five F” philosophy. The slogan (Fruit, Fuel-wood, Fodder, Fertiliser and Fibre) was subsequently adopted by the state government of Himachal Pradesh.

“Save Aravali”

Aravali is a mountainous area rising abruptly out of the deserts of Rajasthan, bordering the state of Gujerat. The existence of the mountains has played a crucial role in arresting the march of the desert across Rajasthan, but in recent years population increases have put pressure on the range, as the tribal people turned to felling trees for their employment and started to denude the slopes. The “Save Aravali” campaign was started by Sunderlal Bahuguna, and was taken up by local activists, who urged the forestry department to replant the area, and thus give alternative employment to the tribal people. This was done, and the campaign is being well supported by the state government as well as the locals.

In September 1985 the movement was started to halt tree-felling in two forested areas of Madhya Pradesh, and also in Maharashtra. There is in addition an ongoing movement to save the forests of central India from being submerged by the proposed Inchampalli dam.

West Bengal

The story in West Bengal is unfortunately rather different. Popular resistance to the wanton destruction of the forests started in the tribal belt of West Midnapur. It was taken over by the separatist Jarkhand Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) which started to use Chipko methods solely to wean the tribals away from the party then in power. The spiritual and nonviolent elements of the Chipko philosophy were ignored.

Chipko around the world

There are reports of similar nonviolent struggles in other parts of the world, particularly from the USA, where Chipko was started in 1983 and is reported to have succeeded in saving the redwoods from the lumberjacks. Similarly, in Stockholm, people climbed up into trees along the roadsides and lived there for some days to prevent their being felled.

The movement in Australia is slightly different, although still peaceful and nonviolent. In 1979 activists buried themselves in the forests and resisted the bulldozers: their bravery in risking their lives that way has done much to save the Australian forests.

Chapter V – An Overall Assessment

Considering the wide area of the Indian sub-continent where Chipko ideas have spread, an objective assessment is a difficult task. India has a historical background of nonviolent struggle and is the land where Gandhi practised his nonviolent ideals. Since his death the country has gone a long way in the opposite direction. There are still, however, some people who understand his ideas of peaceful struggle, and some regions where they continue to be practised.

Chipko is one such example; embracing trees essentially symbolises the harmonious relationship that should exist between humanity and nature, and calls for nonviolence to be practised towards both. The tree-hugging method adopted by the hill women of the Himalayas was definitely the outcome of a local cultural, social and economic situation. These desperately poor women had no other way of countering the threat to their small amounts of land. In the Himalayas it is specifically a women’s movement, a female response to the male-dominated concepts of “economic development” which only created miserable conditions for them, and havoc for the land. In Asia, as in Africa, women tend to be excluded from the process of development, becoming its mute scapegoats, but in the Himalayan foot-hills they have succeeded in saving their forests, and in addition have evolved their own system of forest regeneration.

Where the Chipko movement has been helping tribal people, it is building up local groups to help develop self-confidence. In reality it entails a whole process of decentralised decision-making; the philosophy underlying this movement is that communities should take action themselves to secure their basic needs for their surroundings. This will make communities self-sufficient and generate a decentralised system of permanent economic prosperity.

As we have seen, Chipko has spread to different parts of India that hold differing outlooks, and its success lies in the necessity to build up support without recourse to political party backing. In Karnataka, Appiko has the support of middle-class farmers who are faced with the prospect of dams being built on their land. The people who have been uprooted already because of the dams have supported the spread of Appiko ideology, and the movement, by keeping itself free from active party politics, has largely succeeded in preventing the politicians from misusing the people’s support. At the same time the activists exerted great pressure on local politicians.

The government began to recognise Chipko as an emerging force to be reckoned with, and the development of the hills was reconsidered, keeping the demands of the Chipko activists in mind. At national level the planning commission invited Chipko leaders to contribute to the thinking process.

Chipko has given impetus to other ecological movements in India and has increased the moral strength of nonviolence as a method of struggle. Nevertheless, a note of caution needs to be sounded: the success of Chipko and Appiko was due to the responsiveness of the government. In India there is still freedom to dissent, and nonviolence is not crushed. A responsive attitude on the part of a government is an important factor in any nonviolent struggle. Embracing trees in some authoritarian countries such as those of Central America, for example, may not be the right nonviolent approach.

It is still difficult to assess Chipko’s far-reaching impact on government development policies. At present the ban on commercial felling in the Himalayas is a temporary order given by the late Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi, her son and the present Prime Minister, has dreams of modernisation and development and wishes to take India towards his view of the 21st century. He may therefore ignore movements such as Chipko and Appiko and see them as an obstacle. The felling ban may be rescinded at any time, or a new policy on forest management may curtail the rights of forest dwellers; and it was after all in forest management that Chipko gained its overall success, and made its most important contribution.

A division still persists in the movement between those who seek to utilise the forest resources through the establishment of small-scale industries and those who advocate the ecological stand of asking for a total ban on commercial felling in the Himalayas for another 15 years so that the earth can be healed. Although it may seem that the demarcation line separating these factions is very thin, it hinders significantly the overall strength of the Chipko movement on a national scale. In this context the international aid agencies need to realise the problems they will cause if they try to take over the people’s projects, which depend on their local knowledge and skills. Ambitious project goals and large budgets would be inappropriate.

What of the future?

What is the role of ecological movements such as Chipko and Appiko? What are they trying to accomplish? One thing we can definitely say is that they are striving towards a concept of development appropriate to the conditions prevailing in contemporary India.

After the process of decolonisation, independent countries of the two-thirds world tried to imitate the model of Western development, in dam-building, for instance, and in developing industries that squandered natural resources. We have seen the result of commercial forestry management in India. In addition, India takes huge aid loans from the World Bank and other financial institutions for developing social forestry projects, but the technical consultants brought in then ignore the lessons they could learn from Chipko philosophy. Even so, Chipko has managed to forestall the introduction of the 1982 Forest Bill in Parliament. This Bill was asking for draconian powers to enable forestry management officials to control the forests to the exclusion of those who lived there. Chipko adherents and other non-governmental organisations played an important part in initiating the protest campaign to lobby against this Bill, and people had the chance to suggest alternatives. In the end the government decided not to introduce it.

Chipko workers have also explored the development of alternative energy resources in the Himalayas, experimenting with small-scale electricity generation through mini- and micro-hydro-electric projects. The technology is such that it can be carried out by local people themselves.

At present the rich, whether in the West or in the rest of the world, constitute a small proportion of the total global population, but they consume a very large share of the world’s resources. Even in Western countries there is a growing concern regarding the sustainability of their industrial development, the methods of which are based on the global exploitation of nature so that material prosperity may be attained for a few. The other countries of the world, who have tried to imitate this model, have landed themselves in a development crisis. Many of them meet the needs of the West only by converting their land to grow exports at the cost of their own subsistence crops. India’s vast ocean, for example, at the cost of her own fishermen, is plundered to meet the demands of Japan and Europe.

Chipko is a movement for survival. Nature provides humanity with its two basic requirements, soil and water. Any development strategy must preserve these basics and try to enhance them, but instead the opposite is taking place. So Chipko is attempting to redefine the concept of development, by trying to ensure that these essentials continue to be available for everyone. It is therefore not based on short-term material prosperity for a few, but on long-term prosperity, peace and happiness for all. It strives towards that kind of development wherein basic needs are met from one’s own surroundings. In building self-reliant village ecosystems, a harmonious relationship with nature can be created. It is essential to revitalise the productivity of the land so that sustainable agriculture can be supported. We have seen that in the Indian context, the removal of poverty involves ecological balance combined with social justice.

Chipko and Appiko stress a sustainable and equitable model for development. In this way of thinking, “Ecology is a permanent economy” [4]. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Nature has enough to sustain all, but nothing to satisfy the greed of a few”. The Chipko movement is still in its early stages, and the coming years are crucial for its survival, but what it shows us is the vital need of nonviolence at every level: between human beings and in our relationship with nature.

Pandurang Hegde was born in a village in Karnataka, south India, on 12 July 1956. He spent his childhood in the village and took a post-graduate degree in social work from the University of Delhi. In 1979 he participated in the Chipko movement in the Himalayas, and worked in the rural areas of central India with landless labourers.

At present he is working as a voluntary activist in the Appiko movement (derived from Chipko) in Karnataka, and has been active in the movement’s nonviolent struggle. He is organising a campaign to save the tropical forests of south India.


A short glossary

Ahimsa: Nonviolence, harmlessness.

Appiko: Hugging, embracing (Kanarese dialect).

Ashram: A community of men, women and children bound together by common vows, common work and a common purpose.

Chipko: Hugging, embracing (Hindi dialect).

Sarvodaya: A philosophy combining science and spirituality, with the aim of “the good of all for all time”.


Bibliography (all in English)

Bahuguna, Sunderlal, Chipko Message, Chipko Information Centre (Silyara), 1984.

Bandyopadhyay et al. (ed.), India’s Environment, Crises and Responses, Natraj (Dehradun), 1985.

Dogra, Bharat, Forest and People, 1983. Available from D-7, RakshanKunj, PaschimVihar, North Delhi.

Gandhi Peace Foundation, Major Dams: A Second Look, Gandhi Peace Foundation (N. Delhi), 1981.

Mishra, Anupam and Trip Ati, Sateyendra, Chipko Movement, Gandhi Peace Foundation (N. Delhi), 1978.


[1] The term “two-thirds world”, used in this booklet, refers to the countries which are economically disadvantaged, representing approximately two-thirds of the member states of the United Nations.

[2] Source: Mehromji, Director, French Institute, Pondicherry, in Major Dams: A Second Look (Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1981).

[3] Ibidem. Source: K. V. S. Raju.

[4] The autor of this slogan, Sunderlal Bahuguna (1927-2021) was a Gandhian activist who contribute to the success of Chipko movement. See George A James, Ecology is Permanent Economy: The Activism and Environmental Philosophy of Sunderlal Bahuguna, SUNY, New York, 2013.


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