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The issues and concerns of Chipko are still alive today

Press Club, Dehradun
October 21, 2004

Bali Devi being greeted by Maasai women in Kenya. (courtesy of IISD)The Alliance for Development organized a press conference at the Press Club, Dehra Dun on 21 October 2004, on the return of Bali Devi and Biju Negi from the Global Women’s Assembly on Environment, at Nairobi (Kenya). The following Press Note was circulated to the media on the occasion.

About 200 women from over 50 countries took part in the Global Women’s Assembly on Environment. Women as the Voice for the Environment, organized by UNEP at Nairobi (Kenya) on 11-13 October 2004. From India, Dr Srilatha Batliwala (Hauser Centre for Non-Profit Organizations, Bangalore), Ms. Bali Devi Rana (Chipko and Nanda Devi Campaign, Niti valley, Chamoli, Garhwal) and Biju Negi (UN Consultant and Beej Bachao Andolan, Garhwal) took part in this conference.

In view of the Beijing Women’s Conference completing ten years in 2005, the Nairobi Assembly became additionally important, and toward this UNEP set up a network of women environment ministers of 15 countries, five of which were represented at this conference. The Global Women’s Assembly underlined concern that many of the agreements and promises made at various international gatherings since the UN Environment Conference at Copenhagen in 1972 remained unfulfilled, and that this was partly due to policies of globalization, militarization, fundamentalism and market-based economic models. The women stressed the need to have harmony between the macro economic policies, human rights, gender equality and environmental conservation for sustainable global development.

It was of particular interest for India that of the three women invited to share the stage with Nobel Peace Prize Winner 2004, Prof. Wangari Maathai and address the audience, two were ours — Ms. Bali Devi and Dr Srilatha Batliwala. This invitation to Bali Devi was an honour to the entire women of Uttarakhand who have continued to carry out non-violent struggle for their rights and for solution to their problems. One major reason to remember after 30 years, the most dramatic and discussed action by the women of village Reni during the Chipko Movement, was that the concerns and issues raised by the Chipko then are just as alive today — perhaps in an even more widespread and demoniac form. The basic tenet behind the Chipko was the intrinsic human-forest relationship, just as valid today as it was three decades ago. The irony of the success of the Chipko Movement was that in its aftermath, the various government policies and programmes have continuously sought to rend asunder this interdependent relationship. During the Chipko, the people acted in their traditional role of conservationist, a role which the government confiscated for itself thereafter and the people were now seen as the enemy of the forests.

After the Chipko, when the activists returned to their homes, an even stricter ban was imposed on their traditional rights in the name of environmental conservation through declaration of national parks. Elsewhere, the food security of the people was endangered and their traditional and ecologically-appropriate agriculture and knowledge systems marginalized through imposition of Green Revolution principles and technologies. These two broad issues, later developed as the two main branches of the Chipko — the Jhapto Cheeno Andolan or The Nanda Devi Campaign in Chamoli Garhwal and the Beej Bachao Andolan (Save Seeds Movement) in Tehri Garhwal.

At a Peer Review Meeting in November 2003 at Nairobi, Biju Negi raised this aspect of the Chipko Movement, and as a result it was decided to invite at the 2004 Global Assembly one Chipko grassroots woman. On return, after discussion with the two current streams of the Chipko, it was decided to extend this invitation to Bali Devi of village Reni, Chamoli Garhwal. Thereafter, assuming that the problems of environment and development were applicable equally to the entire state, it was thought that Bali Devi should represent the concerns of the women of the entire Uttarakhand. In a transparent, participatory manner, issues and points were invited from various people’s and non-government organizations and these were included in Bali Devi’s address to the Global Assembly. These included — the issue of women’s right to land and natural resources, the growing pressure of multinational companies on traditional seeds and agriculture and thereby increasing food insecurity, displacement from a network of large and small dams all across the state, social, physical and environmental disruption from mining, linking of CBOs to market and thereby marginalizing the role and capacity of the women, treating the people as mere beneficiaries in government programmes, negation of traditional knowledge systems through imposition of foreign knowledge systems and models in agriculture, tourism, etc.

At the Nairobi, Global Women’s Assembly on Environment, it was underlined that the first victims of such plans, programmes and problems were the women, since it is they who bear the major weight of the mountains on their shoulders.