"Surviving Members of the Original Reni Squad at the Chipko 30th Anniversary 2004" By Ceti at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

“Surviving Members of the Original Reni Squad at the Chipko 30th Anniversary 2004” By Ceti at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

The next time someone calls you a treehugger, say thank you . . . then proceed to tell them the origins of the treehuggers.

In 1730, in India, local villagers of the Bishnoi sect, led by a woman named Amrita Devi, threw their arms around the trunks of a sacred forest, trying to protect the trees from the soldiers of a king who had sent them to cut wood for the construction of his new palace. Three hundred and sixty three people were killed, and the massacre led to a royal decree forbidding any more tree-cutting in Bishnoi villages. The Bishnoi sect of Hinduism was founded in 1451, by Guru Jambheshwar, who gave the message to protect trees and wildlife, prophesying that harming the environment meant harming one’s self. The tenets of the sect were tailored to conserve bio-diversity of the area and ensure a healthy eco-friendly social life for the community.

In the 1970s, the Bishnois inspired the Chipko Movement, comprised mostly of women, who similarly embraced trees to prevent them from being cut down. The Chipko Movement (which means, “to cling”) faced numerous confrontations with logging companies, and reached a major stand-off on March 25th, 1974, when Gaura Devi and twenty-seven women in the village of Reni held an all-night treehugging vigil to prevent loggers from cutting trees. The action spread to nearby villages, resulting in hundreds of Chipko participants engaged in a four-day stand-off with the loggers. They were successful in preserving the trees.

Over the years, the Chipko Movement set up cooperatives to guard local forests, and also organized fodder production at rates conducive to local environment. Next, they joined in land rotation schemes for fodder collection, helped replant degraded land, and established and ran nurseries stocked with species they selected. They also fought mining projects, dams, and established seed saving endeavors which continue to this day.

So, the next time someone calls you a “treehugger”, raise your head high and reply with dignity. It is quite a compliment!

Learn more about the Chipko Movement here.

This essay was featured in Pace e Bene / Campaign Nonviolence’s daily email, “This Nonviolent Life”, which delivers quotes and stories like this about nonviolence to your inbox each morning. Sign up here. It’s free!

Photo Credit: “Surviving Members of the Original Reni Squad at the Chipko 30th Anniversary 2004” By Ceti at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2637648


Rivera New HatAuthor/Activist Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, Billionaire Buddha and Steam Drills, Treadmills, and Shooting Stars, the cohost of Occupy Radio and Love (and Revolution) Radio, and the cofounder of the Love-In-Action Network. She is a trainer and social media coordinator for Campaign Nonviolence and Pace e Bene. Sun attended the James Lawson Institute on Strategic Nonviolent Resistance in 2014 and her essays on social justice movements appear in Truthout and Popular Resistance. www.riverasun.com