The Indian Chipko movement of the 1970's was one of the first forest conservation protest movements in the developing world. It has gone on to become a beacon of environmental campaigning globally with a theme of non-violence. The case is held up as as triumph of the marginalised and tribal peoples of the word against vested coorporate deforestation interests. Deforestation means more than loss of pretty trees to subsistance farmers; it amounts to a loss of firewood, fodder, drinking and irrigation water; a whole way of life comes under threat.
The protests began in a remote village in 1973 where a felling contractor in had been given the right by the state to fell 3000 of trees for a sporting goods store. When the woodcutters arrived, the women pleaded with the them calling the forest their “maternal home,” and explained the consequences of felling the trees. The woodcutters threatened them with guns, shouting abuse at the women. The women in turn threatened to hug the endangered trees and die with them (Chipko is the Hindi word for "cling"). The unnerved laborers eventually left, and the contractor backed off. Similar scenes were repeated in other villages, wth notable protests occurring in 1974 and 1977. Given that women were in the vanguard of the Chipko protests, it is often cited as the birth of the "ecofeminist" movement.
The Chipko movement had its origins 260 years ago in the early 18th century of Rajasthan. The Bishnoi are a religious group found in the Western Thar Desert and northern states of India such as Rajasthan. The Bishoi hold all life, including trees, sacred. They narrate the story of Amrita Devi, a Bishnoi woman who, along with more than 363 other Bishnois villagers, died saving the Khejarli trees when woodsmen of Maharajah Abhay Singh of Jodhpur came felling for the construction of his new palace. After the massacre, the king ceased felling of trees and postponed construction of the palace. Many Indian people still recall the folk tales of the Khejarli sacrifice. The Chipko movement no doubt felt a boost by drawing on such rich history.
Deforestation leads to deterioration in soil conditions, and local erosion. As a result of drainage and runoff, water sources can dry up, and water shortages become widespread. Subsequently, communities may give up raising livestock, which added to the problems of malnutrition in the region. This Chipko crisis was heightened by the fact that forest conservation policies, like the Indian Forest Act, 1927, traditionally restricted the access of local communities to the forests, resulting in scarce farmlands in an over- populated and extremely poor area, despite all of its natural wealth.
The Chipko movement has met with some conditional successes such as moratoriums through government tree felling bans or via court cases. Sometimes local tree replanting schemes have reforested areas close to village homes. In 1987 Chipko was chosen for a “Right to Livelihood Award,” known as the “alternate Nobel” prize honour. The honour was rightly deserved for this small movement dominated by women which had became a national call to save forests.