1980 – Indian ‘tree body-guards’ defeat logging industry

Since the 1930s, foreign logging activities in Uttar Pradesh, India, had  been damaging water supplies, agriculture and seasonal flood patterns, and denying locals access to forest resources. But in 1964 a highly organized and nonviolent ‘tree-embracing’ campaign took hold, winning a 15-year statewide ban on logging.

In the early 1970s, a people’s organisation called Dasholi Gram Swarajya Mandal (DGSM) wanted to establish a turpentine operation using ash trees from the Chamoli district, and organised a demonstration and public meetings to call for the revoking of logging companies’ permits so that their small-scale initiative could begin.

At first the Forest Department denied DGSM’s request for access to the trees, instead allotting the out-of-state Simons Company access to a much larger area of trees to produce cricket bats and tennis rackets for sale hundreds of miles away. DGSM held public meetings to discuss how to respond, at which ‘embracing’ the trees to protect them was suggested.

On hearing the protesters’ plans, the state government offered 10 trees to DGSM – which it refused. In March, 1973, when the Simons Company arrived to start tree-felling, hundreds of villagers and DGSM members barred its way and embraced the trees to protect them. This time it worked, forcing the Forest Department to cancel the Simons contract and award the allotment to DGSM instead.

And the fight didn’t end there. When the Forest Department granted the company access to ash trees 80 km away, DGSM encouraged villagers in other threatened communities to replicate the campaign. Although the company felled five trees, it was unable to remove them because of a round the clock vigil by villagers.

DGSM spread the message of the Chipko campaign statewide. At the end of 1973, when the Forest Department announced the auction of a forest near Reni, angry villagers and DGSM members protected the trees with their bodies.

By 1980, a 15-year-long ban on all logging in Uttar Pradesh had been won. The Chipko campaign had become the Chipko movement, spreading throughout India. Some activists attribute other protests – including those against the Tehri dam and the extension of the Vishnuprayag hydroelectric project – to the legacy of Chipko.

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