Chipko: The Himalayan Tree-Huggers

Women living in the hill villages of the Himalayan mountains of India see the forest as their friend. It provides them with firewood and fodder for their animals. The roots of the trees help the earth to retain rainwater all year round which the women then collect from springs and streams. Unfortunately, other people see the forest as a source of income, and large areas of trees have been sold for industrial use. When nearby forests are cleared daily life for women becomes even harder because they have to walk much further to find water, fuel and cattle fodder. In some areas deforestation has led to disaster because heavy rain rushes down the bare hills causing landslides and floods.

One day in 1973 the villagers of Gopeshwar discovered that the Forestry Department had sold 300 ash trees to a company making sports equipment. When the company's agents arrived in Gopeshwar the villagers politely offered them hospitality in their guest house. But when they got to the forest the next day, the agents found a large crowd. The people had decided to put their arms round the trees to prevent them being cut down. The agents left empty-handed and the Chipko movement got its name. "Chipko" means "hugging" in Hindi.

In other villages the same thing happened. In Reni a woman pleaded with the woodcutters: "Brothers, this forest is our maternal home. It satisfies so many of our needs. Do not destroy it.... The men were ashamed and left. In the forest near Advani women tied sacred threads round 640 trees which were going to be felled. This gesture made the trees into brothers and sisters to be protected with the women's lives. Expecting trouble, the woodcutters arrived with armed police. Three or four villagers clasped their arms round the trunk of each tree. Not a single one could be felled.

In some places women appointed and paid their own guardians to watch over the forest and look after the seedlings. In 1980 the felling of living trees in the Himalayan area was banned. Their ideas and strategy of the Chipko Movement spread to other parts of India and overseas.

Pax Christi

Have you ever felt like hugging a tree?

Maybe not, but look round your school or local park and see if there is a corner which needs looking after... some bare earth which could be planted with bulbs or seeds ... a wall that could be painted with a mural... or an area that could be cleared of rubbish.

Create something beautiful to celebrate the spring.