Gaura Devi, a valiant leader against colonialism and capitalism!

Chipko Movement in India tends to be a model case study for ecofeminist environmental movement. It is widely recognized as one of the first organized environmental protests to save the environment and led to major changes in both state policies and forest management laws in India.

Gaura Devi was born in a tribal Marchha family of Lata Village in the Neeti valley of Chamoli district, Himalayan regions of then Uttar Pradesh. She was married off in Reni village and became a widow at the age of 22 with a two-and-a-half-year-old son to bring up. She became actively involved in the local Panchayat (village councils) and other community work.

On this historic day of March 26, 1974, forest officials with loggers stormed towards the forests of Reni village. The state has come up with a scheme to divert the attention of local men and invited them to the nearby town of Chamoli for the talks of compensation against the authorized felling of trees. With the men gone off, the government realized it would be easier for them to fell trees. But, they were wrong. Gaura Devi along with twenty-seven other women led the first organized protest and saved their community forest from clear-felling through the movement we call, Chipko (“loosely mean hugging”). They saved approximately 2500 trees from being axed by braving the government, gun brandishing officials and ax-equipped loggers.

Chipko Andolan near Reni Village

She was not educated in the conventional sense but had a rich knowledge of her forests, livelihoods dependency on the natural assets and struggles of women in the hills. In the wake of these, she became the president of the Mahila Mangal Dal, an all-women village self-help group. It entailed responsibilities of cleanliness in the village and preserving of community forests.

The movement shook the forest officials and started a ripple effect in the Himalayas. It led to key changes in many forests and environment management laws and policies we follow today such as the Environment Protection Act, Forest Act, Forest Rights Act, etc, making them more community-friendly and emphasized the need to involve them in forest management. It laid the pretext for the joint forest management initiative by MOEF and state forest departments. The movement not only opposed the government, but it also touches the nuances of the material needs of humans, especially from a feminine point, for example, ability to control the means of production and resources used in their daily lives.

In the contemporary situation, where issues like trees felling, compensatory plantations, divestment of rights of forest dwellers and tribal are pertinent, it is important to tell the tale of revered ‘Gaura Devi’ and her companions. It allows us to revisit the historic peasant movement defending traditional forest rights and their continued resistance today.

Researcher. Birder. Weaving stories from Observations.