Tree Huggers and Hunger Strikers – Environmental Leadership in India
The 1960s brought heavy deforestation to the Himalaya ranges of northern India, resulting in landslides, soil erosion, the drying up of water sources, and a lack of firewood, fodder, mushrooms, forest fruits, and medicinal herbs. The traditional lifestyle of the mountain people was threatened. Desperate and incensed, the villagers decided to protect the trees by embracing them. The approach spread and became known as Chipko, meaning ‘to hug’ in Hindi. Besides deforestation, dams were seen as symbols of progress by the government. However, environmentalists pointed out that these megalomaniac projects had numerous flaws. Several settlements and huge areas of ancestral lands, including forests and small-scale agricultural plots, were destined to be flooded. Activists started hunger strikes and blocked the roads leading to the construction sites.