Not a preserve of women

WOMEN were involved in popular agitations in Uttarakhand long before Chipko, but it is Chipko that produced courageous women who even dared to take on the state.

In the Vyali forest agitation in Uttarkashi in 1974, women acted as messengers and lookouts because the men were under police surveillance. Some, like Chooma Devi of Kishanpur village, led processions, a red flag in hand. She is in her 80s now and almost senile, but the mention of a procession is enough to set her muttering, "Get me my red flag. Why are you sitting and watching? We have to march against the pigs of the Van Nigam."

Then there is Bachni Devi of Advani village, whose contractor husband, Bakhtawat Singh, wanted to cut down trees in the nearby forests. She rebelled and joined Chipko in December 1977. Today, Bachni Devi mourns her dead husband and says, "He was a good man. So what if he made a mistake? I convinced him and, in any case, he did not throw me out of the house for joining Chipko."

In Doongri-Paintoli, Gayatri Devi led a group of women and prevented an oak forest from being cleared in 1980 for a horticulture farm. And, when some men in Bacher village agreed to allow the forest department to cut down dead trees, the Mahila Mangal Dal she organised blocked department labourers, contending, "We need the trees for fuel. The trees are ours."

These examples have often been cited as proof that Chipko was exclusively a women's movement. Though this is not to decry the movement, this argument is not true. Some protests, such as those in Mandal and Phata, started as all-male initiatives. In all the struggles, right from Reni to Badyargarh, men, women and children were involved at various levels.