The Chipko Tree Huggers

Source: WikipediaTree huggers. To some conservatives and republicans it’s an insult. To quote Cartman from South Park:

Dolphins, Eskimos, who cares? It’s all a bunch of tree-hugging hippie crap.

But to others, being a tree hugger is a title they carry with pride because it means they care about the environment. To the brave women of the Chipko movement, it’s simply a fight to protect the Indian forests upon which they depend.

Chipko is a Hindi word meaning “to embrace” or “to hug”. It is the act of tree hugging, literally, where village women in India hug and protect trees. The act of hugging trees stemmed from the Gandhian philosophy of peaceful resistance. Mahatma Gandhi is at the root of many non-violent protests. His philosophies have inspired people from all walks of life to stand up for what they believe in. Chipko also takes wisdom from Hinduism, which sees the divine in nature. Many of the beliefs are intricately connected to our relationship with the earth. How we treat nature will affect our karma and our souls’ reincarnation.

Before the movement started in the 1970s, the Indian forest cover was deteriorating at an alarming rate. Rapid deforestation impacted soil conditions, water quality, and eventually the health and livelihood of people in the region. The first Chipko action took place spontaneously in April 1973, when villagers demonstrated against felling of ash trees in Mandal forest. Again, in March 1974, 27 women saved a large number of trees from a contractor’s axe. Soon the movement spread through India and was successful in saving many forests from being ravaged. The Chipko movement has since gained recognition around the world.

Many organizations in various regions of the world currently work to protect forests, plant new trees, and try to bring areas back to life for future generations. But there is still more work to be done. Indian forests are still threatened by coal mining and poor environmental policies. In the United States, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) just introduced a bill to boost logging on federal lands in Western Oregon.

The Chipko movement can serve as an inspiration as environmentalists continue to work to protect forests. The women behind the movement have shown that anyone can get involved in environmental causes. With organization and good beliefs, positive changes can come about.

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About the Author

Gina Merlino is a freelance writer who cares about environmental issues. She has a Bachelor's in Philosophy, a Master's in Engaged Humanities, and is an avid reader of the news. You can find me on Twitter.