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PUCL Bulletin,

September 1982

The Chipko movement and women
-- By Gopa Joshi

The Chipko Movement in the Uttarakhand region of the Himalayas is often treated as a women's movement to protect the forest ecology of the Uttarakhand from the axes of the contractors. But the reasons behind women's participation are more economic than ecological. In fact, the economic and ecological interests of Uttarakhand are so interwoven that it is difficult to promote one without promoting other. In this paper an attempt would be made to explain the reasons behind women's active participation in the Movement and their place within the Movement.

Chipko and women
The Chipko Movement began in 1971 as a movement by local people under the leadership of Dashauli Gram Swarajya Sangh (DGSS) to assert then rights over the forest produce. Initially demonstrations were organized in different parts of Uttarakhand demanding abolition of the contractual system of exploiting the forest-wealth, priority to the local forest-based industries in the dispersal o forest-wealth and association of local voluntary organizations and local people in the management of the forests.

In 1982 , in spite of these demonstrations, the DGSS (now DGSM, M for Mandal) was refused, by the Forest Department, on ecological grounds, the permission to cut 12 Ash trees to manufacture agricultural implements. At the same time, an Allahabad based firm was allotted 32 Ash trees from the same forest to manufacture sports goods. On hearing this news, Chandi Prasad Bhatt threatened to hug the trees to protect them from being felled rather than let them be taken away by this company. Till this time, however, the women were absent.

In 1974, inspite of DGSS's protests, about 2500 trees of Reni forest were auctioned by the Forest Department. The DGSS planned to launch the Chipko Movement there. However, the local bureaucracy played the trick and managed to make the area devoid of local men as well as activists of the DGSS. To the utter surprise of everybody, 27 women of Reni village successfully prevented about 60 men from going to the forest to fell the marked trees. This was the first major success of the Chipko Movement. It is after this incident that attempts were made to project it as a women's movement. After this incident, the Reni Investigation Committee was set up by the U.P. Government and on its recommendations 1200 sq. km. Of river catchment area were banned from commercial exploitation. After Reni, in 1975, the women of Gopeshwar, in 1978, of Bhyudar Valley (threshold of Valley of Flower), of Dongary-Paitoli in 1980, took the lead in protecting their forests. In Dongari and Paitoli, the women opposed their men's decision to give a 60 acre Oak forest to construct a horticulture farm. They also demanded their right to be associated in the management of the forest. Their plea was that it is the woman who collects fuel, fodder, water, etc. The question of the forest is a life and death question for her. Hence, she should have a say in any decision about the forest. Now they are not only active in protecting the forests but are also in afforesting the bare hill-slopes.

Afforestation Programmes General Awakening
Since 1976, the IGSS started afforesting such which had become vulnerable to land slides. Initially this was also an all male programme. Sometimes local village women participated on some ornamental programme on the last day of the afforestation camp. However, the idea of increasing the association of women got momentum after 1978. In the beginning, the local women were assigned the responsibility of looking after the trees planted in their villages. While planting trees their suggestions were sought about the species to be planted. To solve the fodder problem, grass imported from Kashmir was planted.

As the afforestation programme attempted to solve the problem of fuel and fodder, the women welcomed it. They looked after the trees so much so that the survival rate is between 60-80 percent. In these afforestation camps, information about different aspects of local life is exchanged with the villagers. Their basic problems including the specific problems faced by women are discussed and ways of solving these problems are evolved.

Because both the protection and afforestation programmes reflect the needs and aspirations of women, the women have spontaneously responded to the Chipko call and became the effective links of the movement. In fact recently, due to the awakening generated during the afforestation camps, women have started Mangal Dals in many villages have become very active. In our village, the women stood for elections for village head. Previously, the women used to be passive listeners in the camps too. In one of the recent camps, July-Aug 1982, women with breast-feeding children walked about 18 kilometers to participate in the afforestation camp there. The women, who till recently were mere limbs of the movement, have now risen to leadership roles.

 

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