“Our bodies before our trees”. This was a powerful message conveyed by Bahuguna to the world, when he led a group of men and women to hug the trees to stop the loggers from cutting it down. This was in 1970s, when the concept of environmentalism was not taken seriously in India.
Bahuguna was trying to stop the deforestation in the Himalayan region, which set off flash floods and landslides three years before. His methods were Gandhian and it did not take much time for the gale he triggered turned out to be a storm all over the country. Thousands of people joined his cause where they hugged trees and staged peaceful protests. His unique ways were popularised through ‘Chipko’ movement, which literally meant ‘to stick’ (to the trees).
He was 94 years when he succumbed to Covid-19, and his passing away has created a void in the field of environment conservation. His life will still serve as the guiding light for many more generations.
Moulding the legend
Sundarlal Bahuguna was born in Maroda, a village near Tehri, Uttarakhand to a Brahmin family on 9 January 1927. He began to participate in social causes and Indian independence movement, as early as the age of 13. He took part in the social causes against untouchability and actively supported women-led movements against the liquor mafia in Himalayan villages. He was an ardent follower of Gandhian principles and established an Ashram in Tehri, where he lived.
For the environment
The Chipko movement was started on 1973 by mobilising the villagers in Uttarakhand to hug trees as a protest against cutting down the forest. The movement created an awareness on the need of environment sustainability and stirred up the urban elites of India, causing them to develop empathy towards the tribal and marginalized people. Thousands of people flocked in joining the peaceful protests.
Bahuguna took the movement to the next level when he announced his decision to walk a jaw-dropping 4800 km through the foothills of Himalaya. In early 1980s, he started this walk from Kashmir to Kohima, carrying a rucksack full of Chipko literatures, weighing upto 30 kilograms. This ‘Padayatra’(the walk) catapulted his message to soaring heights. His one liner “Ecology is the permanent economy” draw the attention of the world. As a result of the movement, Indian government came up with the law to ban deforestation in the Himalayan region until the green cover was restored. Further; logging was banned above 1,000 meters and the forest area was declared as conservation forests.
He formulated ‘Beej Bachao Andolan’ aiming to save the Himalayan agricultural biodiversity from the proposed ‘Green Revolution’ by Indian government which was suggesting to use chemical fertilizers. He was a front runner against the proposed Tehri dam to protect the biodiversity from being submerged.
Life to be exemplary
Bahuguna adopted Gandhian way of life which was simple by all means. He was persistent, determined and strong headed for his causes. His idea of ecology as the foundation of everything is getting more and more prominent now. Ecological mishaps are the issues of our times and reflects collective, long-term, damaging behavior that needs our immediate attention. Sundarlal Bahuguna lived a illustrious and meaningful life, for us to learn from it and progress towards sustainability in every aspects of life.
“Kya hai jangal ke upkar
Mitti, paani aur bayar
Mitti, paani aur bayar
Yeh hain jindagi ke aadhar”
“What do the forest bear?
Soil, Water and pure air
Soil, Water and pure air,
This is what bear the life”