Homage to Padma Shri Sundarlal Bahugana

Capture 99
Capture 99

Vinod C Dixit

Environmentalist Sundarlal Bahuguna a  famous for leading a movement against deforestation five decades ago, died of Covid-19.  Bahuguna  a noted environmentalist, is credited to spread this movement. Something similar to the Chipko movement had first taken place in 1730 AD in Rajasthan, where a woman named Amrita Devi had led a similar movement. He was an Indian eco-activist and Gandhian peace worker, who has been one of the leaders of the Chipko movement, fighting for the preservation of forests in the Himalayas. Chipko means ’embrace’ or ‘tree huggers’ and this vast movement has been a decentralized one with many leaders, usually village women, who have worked to protect the . Chipko. If we go back to the origin of the Chipko Movement, it  was originally started by Amrita Devi in the Bishnoi community in Rajasthan who protested against the King’s men who were trying to cut the trees in the 18th century. The modern Chipko movement started in the 1970s by Sunderlal Bahuguna. Bahuguna was a renowned Gandhi Follower and he emphasized on the Gandhian non-violence protest/ Satyagraha. The movement was a grass root level movement or campaign started by the people in a small village in Uttarakhand state to protect the trees from cutting down. The meaning of ‘Chipko’ is ‘to hug’, ‘to stick’ or ‘to embrace’. The meaning movement was to embrace and hug the trees to protect them from the contractors who wanted to cut them.

Launched first in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district in 1973, this movement soon spread to the entire Himalayan region. Literally, “Chipko” means “to hug” or “to embrace.” In this non-violent movement, the activists would hug the trees and refuse to budge until the loggers backed off. This helped prevent the trees from being cut.

He was of the opinion that  we have to look after the well-being of the Himalayas not only for Uttarakhand but for the entire country. It may be mentioned here that in 1981, Bahuguna refused to accept the Padma Shri since the felling of trees was rampant in the  Himalayas. Nature has always provided human everything which was necessary for survival. But the greed of human was never satisfied and nature had to pay the dues. Man evolved into the embrace of the mother nature but as the centuries passed by man started to rip off the same hands which fed him. There is a limit to everything and when nature couldn’t tolerate anymore some people stood for the protection and conservation of the mother nature. The Chipko movement inspired many people to come forward and fight for tree conservation. Soon the movement reached other areas and inspired the people to take similar actions to save the trees. Bahuguna believed that all middle Himalayan States need to come together and said that “If we want to save the Himalayas, and more importantly, this water reservoir of , we need to protect people, their land, livelihood, wildlife, forests and rivers.”

PM Modi mourned Bahuguna’s death and twitted that . “Passing away of Shri Sunderlal Bahuguna Ji is a monumental loss for our nation. He manifested our centuries old ethos of living in harmony with nature. His simplicity and spirit of compassion will never be forgotten. My thoughts are with his family and many admirers. Om Shanti.”

He was also a leader in the movement to oppose the Tehri dam project and in defending India’s rivers, and has also worked for women’s rights and rights of the poor. In the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, his work for change has always been done through peaceful resistance and other nonviolent methods. He was a strong voice against the construction of the Tehri Dam, the tallest dam in India, on the Bhagirathi River. He led a campaign against it for two decades and maintained that big dams were a threat to the ecologically fragile Himalayas.

The Chipko Movement received the 1987 Right Livelihood Award, also referred to as the Alternative Nobel Prize, “…for its dedication to the conservation, restoration and ecologically-sound use of India’s natural resources.” It is a very a big loss not just for Uttarakhand and India but for the entire . One may find his ideas simple but they are really viable and implementable. It would be right tribute to Bahuguna  if we resolve to follow his beliefs and vision about the Himalayan ecology.