WOMEN STANDING UP FOR TREES

There is an interesting connection between trees and women that goes way back in time in India.

When the king of Jodhpur in 1730 ordered cutting down of the local Khejri trees for the sake of building his new palace, a woman named Amrita Devi, along with her three young daughters, stood up for the protection of the trees, but were brutally killed along with 350 other people who also joined the protest. Amrita Devi belonged to the Bishnoi community that also today is known for its great love for conservation.

It was this 1st environmentalist movement in India, that centuries later was the inspiration for the famous Chipko movement in the Himalayan region of Northern India.

The historical story of Chipko began in 1974, when Gaura Devi, along with other women, created a human chain to prevent contractors from causing damage to the forests, their home in the small village of Reni in Uttarakhand.

There was a long dispute between the forest department and the community, but contrary to the early Bishnoi movement, the Chipko movement succeed in causing the contractors to finally withdraw their plan of cutting the trees (and the protesters!).

The Chipko movement quickly spread throughout the Indian Himalayas and continues to this day as a mainly de-centralised and autonomous peasant and women’s movement for forest rights and the raising of awareness about environmental protection. 

The Hindi word chipko means “to hug” or “to cling to” and reflects the demonstrators’ primary tactic of embracing the trees to impede the loggers.

Recently in 2014, a group of women in Odisha took inspiration from the Chipko movement when standing up for the trees in Jhinkargadi forest in their village Balarampur.

© Copyright Anne Mølleskov 2020