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Sunder Lal Bahuguna -The man who taught us to love nature too

Sunder Lal Bahuguna -The man who taught us to love nature too

The world was shocked I think and silent for a few seconds whenever they received the message on May 21, 2021, that Sunderlal Bahuguna has passed away at the age of 94 while battling his way out of covid.

The leader of the Chipko movement, Bahuguna was a true environmentalist and a follower of Gandhian philosophy. His demise is a great loss to the entire country and environmentalists across the globe, especially the people of Uttarakhand. “We are doing violence towards the earth, towards nature. We have become butchers of nature,” Sunderlal Bahuguna once told an interviewer.

The man who taught Indians to hug trees to protect the environment. He was one of the main leaders of the Chipko movement in northern India in the 1970s. In Hindi, Chipko literally means “hugging, Heeding calls by Bahuguna and fellow activist Chandi Prasad Bhatt, men and women in the Indian Himalayas embraced and chained themselves to trees to stop loggers from cutting them down. It was a powerful symbol that conveyed, ‘Our bodies before our trees’.

It also became a movement that brought to the world’s attention the devastation wrought by the environmental crisis in the world’s highest mountains. A devastating flood in Uttarakhand in 1970 had come as a rude awakening for villagers. They woke up to the “tenuous links between deforestation, landslides, and floods”, noted Ramachandra Guha, a historian who has chronicled the Chipko movement.

Three years later, Bahuguna and fellow activists began embracing trees. Young men took an oath in blood to protect nature.

Very soon, women in the Himalayas became an integral part of the movement too, embracing trees and tying ‘rakhis’ – a symbolic red thread tied around a brother’s wrist during the Hindu festival of Raksha Bandhan – onto the bark of trees. They walked in the snow and took away tools from loggers to stop felling.

Bahuguna, who grew up in the Himalayas, connected the dots well. He wrote that deforestation led to erosion of fertile land and pushed the men out of the villages to look for jobs in cities.

This left women to “bear all the responsibilities of collecting fodder, firewood, and water, apart from farming”. Not surprisingly, the Chipko movement became an important milestone in the fight to secure women’s rights. Over the years, Bahuguna, with his flowing beard and trademark bandana, went from strength to strength. College students and women joined him in greater numbers. They staged peaceful demonstrations, hugged trees, and went on fasts.

It yielded results: a fast in 1981 led to a 15-year ban on commercial felling of trees in Uttarakhand. Two years later, he marched 4,000km (2,500 miles) in the Himalayas to draw attention to environmental degradation.

In 1992 he shaved his head and went on a fast to protest at the Tehri dam, India’s tallest. He was among those who lost their ancestral homes due to its construction, The indefatigable campaigner never stops lecturing, railing against the collusion of forest officials and private contractors in decimating forests.

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About The Author

Praveen Yadav

19 | Bibliophile and quaint | Full-Time Coder, Occasional Writer | Analytical Journalist at NDTV | Political and Psychological

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