Book review: Shekhar Pathak, The Chipko Movement: A People’s History

AuthorPushpa Singh
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews
Shekhar Pathak, The Chipko Movement: A People’s History. India: Permanent Black. 2021. 371 pages. `895.
ISBN: 9788178245553.
Forest, land and natural resources have been an indispensable source of sustenance for the people in hills
in India. Village communities have been custodians of local forests and commons, managing them
effectively since antiquity. However, their two-century appropriation by the rapacious colonial and
later the post-colonial state became a significant concern. As an imperative to reclaim and conserve
forest so crucial for the ecology and economy of the mountains, the famous Chipko movement emerged
in the Uttarakhand region of India in 1973. Since then, it has been associated with the upsurge of
environmental consciousness, gaining iconic status and heralding modern environmentalism in the
country. However, its popular portrayal by the Western media and Indian historians has highlighted a
few prominent figures such as Sunderlal Bahuguna and Chandi Prasad Bhatt to represent its legacy,
while the masses who were crucial in organizing the movement were entirely ignored.
This book by Shekhar Pathak is distinct in that it celebrates the contribution and indomitable spirit
of the ordinary people who made this unique ecological movement extraordinary. This is depicted in
examples like the vivid portrayal a girl from Reni who alerted Gaura Devi, the head of Mahila Mangal
Dal, about the arrival of loggers; a man who pointed out in a meeting how villagers themselves marked
the tree for cutting; children motivated by Ghanshyam Sailani’s Chipko song and so on.
Described as ‘the definitive history of the Chipko Movement’ by Ramachandra Guha in his introduc-
tion, this book provides a comprehensive account of the prolonged forest struggle against infringement
from the feudal, colonial and later the independent Indian state. Originally published in 2019 in Hindi as
Hari Bhari Umeed: Chipko Andolan aur Anya Janglat Pratirodho ki Parampara by Vani Prakashan,
it has been translated into English by Manisha Chaudhary. This well written book draws from a very
wide range of sources: local newspapers, pamphlets, administrative reports, posters and numerous inter-
views conducted during extensive field work from 1974 to 2013 by the author. Beginning with a geo-
graphical introduction of the region, Pathak analyses the rich historical legacy of environmentalism in
the foothills of Himalaya. The second chapter narrates the usurpation of natural resources, such as resin
and timber, and a gradual deprivation of forest rights of the villagers under colonial forestry. Pathak
describes how the colonial legacies shaped the forest policy and practices of the post-colonial develop-
mentalist state. The forest continued to be denuded for coniferous wood, pine resin, paper and plywood
for the newly established industries. Accelerated commercial extraction not only destroyed the fine eco-
logical balance of the region but also eroded community life, resulting in an existential crisis for peas-
ants, artisans, pastoralists and tribals.
In the third chapter, Pathak describes the growing opposition across Uttarakhand with the
vernacular press, particularly the Garhwali and Almora Akhbar, creating alarm against increasing state’s
encroachment in the form of reserved forest and harassment of villagers by the forest guards. In the
Studies in Indian Politics
10(2) 298–305, 2022
© 2022 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23210230221135828

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