This article has been sponsored by the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation
Forty-six years ago, one of the most potent pro-environment battles, the Chipko Movement, ignited a wave of protests against deforestation across the nation.
This mass, non-violent movement was started by villagers to fight against the nameless movers and shakers of government policy and heavy industry patrons, who wished to destroy forests in the name of development. It was a seminal time for those who believed in standing up for what they believed in.
Even all these years, one of the leading supporters of the movement, social activist Dhoom Singh Negi, recalls a specific incident that contributed to the agitation.
“Humans have time and again exploited nature, and in 1973, near Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, such an incident unfolded. The forest officials had decided to auction Angu trees to Allahabad-based manufacturing company Simon, which wanted to cut them down and create sports and leisure products. The wood of the tree was essential for the villagers who used it for ploughs, as it was strong yet soft, thus did not bruise the cattle. Villagers never cut them down or destroyed them to serve their purposes but merely used what nature willingly provided. So, when they got to know about it, they centred around the tree hugging it in protest,” says Dhoom while speaking to The Better India.
The 79-year-old activist was recently conferred with the ‘Jamnalal Bajaj Award for Outstanding Contribution in the Field of Constructive Work for 2018 ‘ by Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation (JBF).
The award recognizes constructive work in making rural communities in India self-reliant based on the ideologies of Mahatma Gandhi.
And, Dhoom Singh has dedicated his entire life fighting against alcoholism, untouchability, deforestation — all of which were part of the Chipko movement.
A native of Pipaleth village of the Tehri Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, Dhoom Singh, commonly known as ‘guruji’, has found inspiration from various figures like activist and environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna, scientist Tarak Mohan Das, Che Guevara, etc.
“Chipko reflected the power of the masses, without using violence. As it was spreading all across the state and beyond very quickly, the nature of the movement also began to vary from place to place. In my area, which is in Tehri Garhwal, the movement expanded. It was no longer just about the loss of employment and livelihood because of the exploitation of our forests, but also the entire environment. How deforestation impacted the environment, in the long run, was focused on scientifically,” says Dhoom Singh.
He adds that scientist Tarak Mohan Das’ study also justified that the usefulness of a tree aged 50 or more is higher if it continues to live prosperously.
“If it is cut down, it will yield only 3% benefit, as opposed an alive and well tree which can be beneficial by almost 97%,” he adds.
Dhoom Singh was once a school teacher in a government school, but with the raging turmoil all around, he could not stay silent in his secure job. He quit to join the Sarvodaya movement in the ’50s. A voracious reader with a treasure of books and diaries in his library, Dhoom Singh has also authored a book named, ‘Mitee Paani aur Bayar’.
The book, which draws references from the movement, depicts a holistic perspective of the struggles and issues that continue to affect Uttarakhand.
The Chipko slogan- ‘Kya hain jungle ke upkaar (What’s the utility of a forest)/ Mitti, paani aur bayaar (soil, water and breeze)/ mitti, paani aur bayaar/ Zinda rehne ke aadhaar (the basis of staying alive)’- is what inspired the title of his book.
A man who continues to fight the Chipko battle, Dhoom Singh feels that the youth must join.
“Change has come. People’s perspective about nature and her gifts has changed and once again they are willing to respect and treasure it. So, this is the right time to restore the harmonious connection between the two.
For that, the youth needs to take the mantle and continue the fight. No matter where you are, you are always close to nature, and it’s time to start acknowledging and embracing it with reverence,” concludes Dhoom Singh.
Find more details about the Jamnalal Bajaj Awards here.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)