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“The definitive history of the Chipko Movement” RAMACHANDRA GUHA


In India, modern environmentalism was inaugurated by the Chipko Movement, which began in 1973. Because it was led by Gandhians, included women participants, occurred in “spiritual” Himalayan regions, and used innovatively non-violent techniques of protest, it attracted international attention.

It also led to a major debate on Indian forest policy and the destructive consequences of commercialisation. Because of Chipko, clear-felling was stopped and India began to pay attention to the needs of an ecological balance which sustained forests and the communities within them. In academic and policy-making circles it fuelled a wider debate on sustainable development – on whether India could afford to imitate the West’s resource-intensive and capital-intensive ways of life.

Chipko’s historians have hitherto focused on its two major leaders, Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Sunderlal Bahuguna. The voices of “subalterns” – ordinary men and women such as Gaura Devi who made Chipko what it was – have not been recorded. Shekhar Pathak has lived in their valleys, studied the landscapes, talked to protesters and communities, and trawled local newspapers of the time. He shows that in leadership and ideology Chipko was diverse and never a singular Gandhian movement.

Every scholar and serious student of Indian environmentalism will need to engage with the empirical richness and analytic solidity of this path-breaking book.

SHEKHAR PATHAK has travelled to virtually every hamlet of Kumaon and Garhwal, and his knowledge of the Himalaya is widely acknowledged to be encyclopaedic. He is an indefatigable mountain-walker who has been traversing 1100 kilometres on foot once every decade, starting in the village of Askot on the Nepal border in the east and ending in Arakot in Himachal Pradesh. He established the People’s Association for Himalaya Area Research (PAHAR) in 1983 and is the author, with Uma Bhatt, of Asia ki Peeth Per (On Asia’s Back), a biography of the Himalayan explorer Pandit Nain Singh Rawat. He has published numerous pamphlets and several issues of the journal Pahar over the years. He has also been a professor of History at Kumaun University, Nainital, and Fellow at the Centre for Contemporary Studies, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi.

Translated from the Hindi by Manisha Chaudhry/ Edited and with an Introduction by Ramachandra Guha

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