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Hugging the Trees


Written by Russell Molina

Illustrated by Liza Flores

Chandi Prasad Bhatt Born in 1934 in India’s northern region of Uttar Pradesh, Chandi Prasad Bhatt was a long-awaited answer to his father’s prayer for a son. While his father was considered a “Brahmin among Brahmins” as a highly respected priest, he was also a subsistence farmer; when he died before Chandi Prasad (CP) was barely a year old, the burden of raising the family was left entirely on the shoulders of CP’s mother. Like many other women living in the hill villages, she had to spend many hours every day gathering wood for fuel, grass for cattle fodder, and water for drinking and washing – repeatedly walking up and down the mountains. Even as a young boy, CP had to drop out of school after Grade 2 because his mother could not earn enough to support his studies. Yet despite all his difficulties, CP eventually passed the government qualifying exams and spent some time as a village schoolmaster.

Working as a field dispatcher with a bus company, he met and was inspired by leaders and workers of the sarvodaya (welfare for all) movement, who practiced Mahatma Gandhi’s exhortation for everyone to work for the upliftment of Indian society, especially in the villages. Joining the movement as a volunteer, CP eventually quit his job to do full-time community work for the economic improvement of people dependent on forest resources. He set up a labor cooperative, later called the Dasholi Society for Village Self-Rule (DGSM) that created for its members employment opportunities for forest-based products and for road-building contracts; but more powerful groups outside the Chamoli district — government, contractors, business interests seeking to exploit the forests – blocked DGSM’s efforts. Worse, after twelve years the fragile forests in these Himalayan areas were still being rapidly cut down.

In order to avert violent confrontation between the oppressed villagers and the exploiting companies, CP Bhatt persuaded the communities to continue working within the Gandhian model of active non-violence. He proposed a novel, personal, and vivid way of collective protest – let the people go into the forest, clasp their hands around the tree trunks, and defy the woodcutters to let the axes fall on their defenseless backs. His strategy was accepted, the Chipko Andolan (“movement to embrace”) was born and succeeded! It has since inspired many other non-violent citizen movements worldwide.

Beyond leading Chipko’s peaceful protests, CP further established an innovative way to manage and sustain the Himalayan environment — the “eco-development camps.” These “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 they had 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.

In 1982 the RMAF board of trustees honored Chandi Prasad Bhatt with the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in recognition of “his inspiration and guidance of Chipko Andolan, a unique, predominantly women’s environmental movement, to safeguard wise use of the forest.”

Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Community Service, 1982

Copyright © 2015

ISBN: 978-971-569-912-2

Size: 8x10. 16 pages. Full-color

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