How a tree-hugging protest transformed Indian environmentalism



Fifty years ago this week, Gaura Devi, an ordinary woman from a nondescript village in India, hugged a tree, using her body as a shield to stop the tree from being cut down. Little did she know that this simple act of defiance would be a seminal moment in the history of India and the world. Or that Reni village, where she lived, would come to be recognised as the fountainhead of the Chipko environmental movement. What the foot soldiers of Chipko wanted was an acknowledgement of their Indigenous rights to access forest resources that were crucial for their survival. What they got instead was a national law and a ministry populated by a new breed of power brokers — who, in the years to come, would decide at times that habitat preservation is possible only by keeping local communities out.