They may have never heard of Sunderlal Bahuguna and his Chipko movement in the Garhwal Himalayas more than 35 years ago. But young people at this leafy, sprawling campus more than 12,000 km away are certainly following in his footsteps.
Bahuguna organised the women of Chamoli district to hug trees in the surrounding forests and thereby, prevent their indiscriminate felling by contractors.
Here, young and women have climbed atop seven oak trees—amidst a cluster of 42—on the campus and remain there in turns day and night in a defiant gesture to stop them from being chopped down by the university authorities.
They have been at it since last December, opposing the trees’ being cut down to make way for a gym and physical training centre. While one student perches on a machan-like platform among the branches, his supporters cluster around the tree trunk with banners and posters. “We are getting support from not only students and scholars, but also citizens,” said Jessica Walsh, leader of a group which has taken over one of the trees. “That is why the authorities have not been able to remove us from here.”
Some of the young people distributed pamphlets to passers by, which explained why the oak grove should not be destroyed. Others played music. “Many students on the ground were forcibly taken away,” said Stoic, another student.
Four law suits have also been filed against the University of California, Berkeley, the students revealed, including one by the city authorities of Berkeley. The California Oaks Foundation, the Panoramic Hill Association and the Save Tightwood Hill were the other three. “We will continue sitting here to save the oaks,” said Jessica.
The university has so far has refused to relent. The spokesperson for the university said a balance between conflicting demands and priorities was required. The university is ready to plant the same number of oak trees elsewhere.