Reviving Chipko: Uttarakhand women hug trees to prevent road construction
Tales of the iconic Chipko movement were revived when women in Uttarakhand’s Jakhani village in Bageshwar on Monday hugged trees in a bid to protect them from felling for the proposed construction of Kamedi Devi-Rangthara-Majgaon-Chaunala road. The women claimed that the forest is dedicated to a Goddess and trees are like children to them.
Kamala Mehta, sarpanch of the area, said, “Chaunala village has already a road and as such what is the use of another road and cutting trees for the construction? We won’t let them cut our trees since felling trees will not only destroy the environment but also the natural water resources of our area.”
Kamedi Devi-Rangthara-Majgaon-Chaunala, a 2-kilometre-long road was sanctioned in 2009 but due to the protests by villagers from two villages of Seri and Jakhani, the construction could not begin.
Later villagers of Majgaon, a village next to Jakhani, approached the High Court for the construction of the proposed road and the HC directed for the construction. Last week, the villagers of Seri village staged a protest and halted the construction, but the local administration had continued the road work with the help of police.
One of India’s first major environmental movements, the Chipko movement of the 1970s became a rallying point for future non-violent environmental movements in India. The move even attracted international attention. Gaura Devi, from Uttarakhand’s Raini village in Chamoli district, had played a key role in the Chipko movement in March 1974 when contractors engaged by an Allahabad-based sports goods company came to the village to cut the Ash trees. The women of the village hugged trees and contactors had to return without any felling.
In a similar way, women of Jakhani village, around 35 km from Bageshwar headquarter gathered in the nearby forest on Monday and hugged the trees of their forest to protest against the proposed felling of the trees. They said that they have dedicated the forest to a Goddess and taken a pledge to save the trees on the line of ‘one woman-one tree’. They maintained that they have taken care of them like their children and it is not possible to allow felling for a road.
The villagers stressed that their area is already facing environmental problems. The felling of trees will not only deteriorate the environment but also dry the natural water resources of their area, they added.
They shouted slogans against the government and the road project. The villagers warned that if the road is constructed, the administration should change the alignment of the road so that their forest could be protected.
Ishwar Joshi, a junior engineer of the public works department (PWD), said, “Our department is constructing a road on the instruction of the district magistrate. Villagers of one village are opposing the felling of trees. We have informed our senior officials about the protest.”
Devendra Pandey, a local social activist of the area, said, “Since the villagers have dedicated the forest to their Goddess for the protection of trees, they don’t even collect fodder and firewood from that forest. This is the reason that they staging a protest against the felling.”