26 March, Mumbai
A Google Doodle on Monday celebrated the 45th anniversary of the Chipko Movement one of the most influential non-political eco-conservation movements in the world, inspired by the famed Sundarlal Bahuguna, in 1973.
The Goodle (Google + Doodle) illustration takes off from an original picture of the movement spearheaded by Gaura Devi, who learnt late on March 25, 1974, that a group of loggers had arrived to butcher trees in her Reni village, in modern-day Uttarakhand.
With a group of her ‘sahelis’ she rushed to the tree-felling site and despite threats at gun-point and abuses by the loggers, they surrounded the trees and ‘stuck’ (chipko) to them all night.
The next day, the news spread like wildfire and people from many surrounding villages also joined in ‘hugging’ to save their beloved trees. After a face-off of four days the lumberers left and the trees were saved.
The Goodle, created by Svabhu Kohli and Viplov Singh, depicts four women — among them purportedly Gaura Devi, Sudesha Devi, Bachni Devi — protectively surrounding a huge tree in a forest in the dead of the night.
Under a half-moon, an invisible river is flowing with a deserted bridge over it, and several baffled forest creatures, nesting birds suspiciously eyeing the ‘trespassers’ below the fruity tree, as the Google logo is created with a flourish from the clouds, the tree and its branches.
Bahuguna launched the ‘Chipko Movement’ in a non-violent, Gandhian style, in the foothills of the Himalayas in the then Garhwal region to protest trees that were being indiscriminately chopped off in the name of development, but were detrimental to the villagers and tribals living there since centuries.
His movement shot into global limelight with the (aforementioned) Gaura Devi-led initiative to protect the trees in her village and soon it spread in different parts of the country with villagers peacefully ‘hugging’ trees to save them from the axes.
Interestingly, long before Bahuguna’s epochal movement, there was a small eco-friendly initiative in September 1731, when some 363 members of the Bishnoi community of Khejarli, Jodhpur region, voluntarily sacrificed their lives to protect the Khejri trees, worshipped on the last day of Dussehra festival.
Taken aback by the ‘green’ fervour of the villagers, finally Maharaja Abhai Singh of Marwar issued a royal decree banning all tree-felling in the Bishnoi areas of his desert kingdom.
Later, a monument to commemorate the Bishnoi massacre was constructed and it stands testimony to the peoples’ sacrifices in the village even today.
The modern-day ‘Chipko Movement’ started in April 1973, in a modest way in the snowy foothills and the upper valley of the Alakananda River in Mandal village, Uttarakhand.
Angered by the state government’s move to allot lush forest lands to a sports goods manufacturer to make tennis racquets, the locals encircled and ‘hugged’ trees for days to prevent their felling.
Though it was essentially a female-led movement, many men joined in and Bahuguna’s guidance drew the attention of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who in 1980 imposed a 15-year prohibition of tree-cutting activities in the sub-Himalayan regions till the entire forest cover was regained.
Emboldened by the success of the eco-feminist movement that proved to be a boon the environment protection, Bahuguna later embarked on a 5000-km foot-march (1981-1983) in the trans-Himalayan region to inspire the villagers on taking up campaigns to save the environment.
This resulted in diverse activities like women’s groups guarding forests from illegal tree-cutting, fodder production from jungles, setting up plant nurseries and afforestation drives to reclaim the green cover, in some areas women tied ‘Rakhi’ to trees for protecting them, and other measures to minimize or end exploitation of forests for blatant commercial gains at the expense of the local communities.
For his efforts, Bahuguna, who has retired to his native Maroda village in Uttarakhand, has been conferred the Padma Vibhushan, the Right Livelihood Award (the Alternate Nobel) and Jamnalal Bajaj Award, among many others.
His associates and other key functionaries like Chandi Prasad Bhatt were also honoured and awarded, while Bahuguna diverted his energies to other eco-friendly movements like opposing dams, indiscriminate deforestation and others over the years.
“The ‘Chipko Andolan’ also stands out as an eco-feminist movement. Women formed the nuclear of the movement, as the group most directly affected by the lack of firewood and drinking water caused by deforestation.
“The power of protest is an invaluable and powerful agent of social change. Take some time to hug your favourite tree-hugger in celebration of the ‘Chipko Movement’!” said Google in its tribute.