HIGHLIGHTS

  • BHATT became increasingly aware of the threat of indiscriminate tree felling after July 20, 1970 when a cloudburst over his home district of Chamoli suddenly raised the water level of the Alaknanda River more than 60 feet.
  • BHATT had instituted the Dasholi Gram Swarajya Mandal (Society for Village Self-Rule) to organize fellow villagers in Gopeshwar for employment near their homes in forest-based industries—making wooden implements from ash trees and gathering and marketing herbs for aryuvedic medicine-and to combat vice and exploitation.
  • Curtailment of the villagers’ legitimate rights to trees and forest products in favor of outside commercial interests enabled BHATT in 1973 to mobilize the forest-wise society members and villagers into the collective Chipko Andolan (Hug the Trees Movement) to force revision of forest policies dating from 1917.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his inspiration and guidance of Chipko Andolan, a unique, predominantly women’s environmental movement, to safeguard wise use of the forest.”

 CITATION

Almost nowhere on earth is recent forest denudation resulting in disasters comparable to those in the Himalayas, chiefly at 5,000 to 14,000 feet above sea level. Geologically relatively recent, the massive upthrust which created Mount Everest and other peaks, also shaped precipitous ridges where soil is held precariously by forest cover. In the now 75,956 villages spread across the 2,000-mile long Indian-Himalayan frontier, earning a livelihood is becoming increasingly hazardous. Overgrazing by sheep, goats and cattle speeds erosion when the snows melt. Construction of roads for defense purposes and to reach hallowed shrines, opens forests for logging in a wood-short land, and replaces “fear of the tiger with fear of landslides.”

CHANDI PRASAD BHATT became increasingly aware of the threat of indiscriminate tree felling after July 20, 1970 when a cloudburst over his home district of Chamoli suddenly raised the water level of the Alaknanda River more than 60 feet. Some 400 square miles were flooded as roads and bridges washed away and Gauna Lake, formerly 330 feet deep, filled with debris. Also blocked were canals irrigating nearly one million acres in western Uttar Pradesh. Since then ever more houses, livestock and people have been lost to floods. In August 1978 the largest landslide of the century—over two miles long—blocked the Bhagirathi River. Reservoirs behind the great hydroelectric schemes that are the prime energy hope of the subcontinent, are rapidly silting up.

BHATT in 1964 had instituted the Dasholi Gram Swarajya Mandal (Society for Village Self-Rule) to organize fellow villagers in Gopeshwar for employment near their homes in forest-based industries—making wooden implements from ash trees and gathering and marketing herbs for aryuvedic medicine-and to combat vice and exploitation. Curtailment of the villagers’ legitimate rights to trees and forest products in favor of outside commercial interests enabled BHATT in 1973 to mobilize the forest-wise society members and villagers into the collective Chipko Andolan (Hug the Trees Movement) to force revision of forest policies dating from 1917. Women, who regularly walk three to five miles to the forest to gather and carry home fuel and fodder on their backs, took the lead. True to the movement’s non-violent philosophy, these women embraced the trees to restrict their felling. Establishment of “eco-development camps” brought villagers together to discuss their needs within the context of the ecological balance of the forest. Stabilizing slopes by building rock retaining walls, the campers planted trees started in their own village nurseries. While less than one-third of the trees set out by government foresters survived, up to 88 percent of the villager-planted trees grew.

BHATT and his society colleagues have been helped by sympathetic scientists, officials and college students. Yet theirs is essentially an indigenous movement of mountain villagers, and Chipko Andolan has become an instrument of action and education for members, officials and outsiders, in the realities of effective resource conservation.

Although BHATT has attended meetings in lowland India and abroad as a spokesman for Chipko, he has remained a man of his community. Now 48, he, his wife and five children continue to live the simple life of their Himalayan neighbors. In the process he has become knowledgeable and productive in helping ensure his peoples’ hard won living.

In electing CHANDI PRASAD BHATT to receive the 1982 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the Board of Trustees recognizes his inspiration and guidance of Chipko Andolan, a unique, predominantly women’s environmental movement, to safeguard wise use of the forest.

 RESPONSE

I thank you all for choosing me for the Community Leadership Award for starting the Chipko Movement, the save the forest movement, in the interior parts of the Himalayas. I must confess that this is not my honor, but you have honored those illiterate women, students, rural youths and scientists who are fighting to save the fragile balance of nature.

At the beginning of the century the unsystematic development process led to the disturbance of the balance and it has left a track of destruction everywhere. In every country man is standing against nature. And that is why, everywhere, we have floods, droughts, landslides and such calamities which are called natural but in fact are the result of man’s interference with nature.

We are all the culprits in this process and we also are the victims of each result. In fact, we are not inheriting this earth from our forefathers, but we have started borrowing it from our future generations. That is why Mahatma Gandhi said that this earth can fulfill everybody’s need, but not his greed.

In Indian mythology the Himalaya is considered the abode of God. Kalidas, the Sanskrit poet, wrote that “in the north is situated the mountain of all mountains, the Himalaya, the soul of God, which is like a balance of this earth.” That is why God gave us inspiration to start a movement to save this wonderful creation. He made small people like us the instrument for the conservation movement. Because of the strength derived from Almighty God the forces who were destroying the Himalaya environment, and who had the full backing of the exploitative social system and of the law, were halted by small people of small villages. And in the front line came those simple, hesitant village women who had never crossed the boundaries of their household duties.

The area of cooperation and influence of the Chipko Movement has been enlarging ever since. Started by a handful of Gandhian workers of the Dasholi Gram Swarajya Mandal and villagers in 1973, this tender, nonviolent but very strong movement has gained sympathy across the country. Not only villagers, students and scientists, but even those whose policies were destroying the balance of nature, have joined the movement.

The movement, which was started with the slogan “cut us before you cut the tree,” has today taken the shape of a movement to generate a healthy development process, to fight injustice and to give opportunity to people to live with dignity.

The movement is regularly conducting eco-development camps, not only to make people conscious of saving their forests, but to plant new forest trees on the denuded lands. In fact these camps have become lively, non-formal mobile schools to train people for their own development, so that they can stand on their own, fight injustice themselves, and create a new society from their own strength and resources. Above all the eco-development program has shown how the food, fuel, fodder and fiber needs of the hill people can be met without destroying the forests.

With the great man Ramon Magsaysay, who lived and fought and died for these values, with such a great soul you have linked our movement, and this linkage has given great honor to the ordinary village people of our remote area. I have come here to express our gratitude and thanks from these people who are struggling hard to create a new model of development without destruction.

Give us courage and love so that we can continue this effort.

 BIOGRAPHY

Chamoli District in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh lies next to the Tibet border in the center of the eight northernmost districts, collectively called the Uttarkhand. This Himalayan region includes the sites of many ancient temples sacred to Hindus, and is the source of the major rivers which water the plains of northern India. Over 35 percent of the Uttarkhand is forest—on which the hill people depend for their very existence.

The town of Gopeshwar, the headquarters of Chamoli District, in the 1960s was a small village typical of the settlements in this remote area. Located a mile above sea level, its economy was based on milch cattle and subsistence farming of wheat, rice, and some coarse grains. The women traditionally worked the fields and attended the cattle in addition to fulfilling their household tasks and caring for their children. They also gathered fodder for the animals, fuel for cooking and supplemental food from the nearby forests. Almost one quarter of the adult males either joined the army or sought jobs on the plains.

CHANDI PRASAD BHATT was born in Gopeshwar on June 23, 1934, the second child of Ganga Ram Bhatt and Maheshi Devi Thapliyal. Ganga Ram was a high order of Brahmin, a farmer, and a priest at two of the most famous shrines in the area, Gopeshwar’s own temple where the Lord Shiva is said to have meditated, and the shrine at Rudranath, 12,000 feet higher in the Himalayas. Considered a “Brahmin among Brahmins,” he also performed rites in the homes of villagers on the occasion of births, marriages and funerals.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)