Today’s activists have a lot to learn from the life of Sunderlal Bahuguna and Chipko
In November, the UK and Italy will co-host a global climate conference called COP26. One of the objectives of the meeting is to persuade all countries to work towards reducing net greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity to zero by 2050. A path towards the objective to be discussed revolves around ways to reduce deforestation. A world summit in 2021, which plans to discuss deforestation, highlights how ahead of its time the Chipko movement was, led by Sunderlal Bahuguna, who died last week.
Chipko was a product of the restless 70s, although the seeds were sown earlier. It is arguably the most impactful environmental movement India has witnessed recently. What makes it unique is that the call to action was not top-down, catalyzed by complex science. It was a grassroots movement in Uttarakhand where the forest became the focal point of environmental and livelihood issues. If Bahuguna and his partner Chandi Prasad Bhatt were the faces of the movement which began in March 1973, its sustainability and impact came from the villagers of the Himalayas, especially women. The lived experience of the villagers has been the driving force behind the Chipko movement.
The environmental damage caused by deforestation in the Himalayas is not in question. But the lessons continue to be ignored. Bahuguna, who was known for his aphorisms, observed that “ecology is a permanent economy”. The increasing incidence of extreme weather events leads to increased economic costs. Development versus the environment is a false argument. They are linked. As the global movement to abandon this bogus binary gains momentum, India must revisit the lessons of the Chipko movement. The same goes for representatives at COP26. Chipko made an impact because environmental truths at home transcended political differences. Progress in tackling climate change requires the same spirit.
This article appeared as an editorial notice in the print edition of The Times of India.
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