Tribal Women in Chipko Movement

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  • Topic: Chipko movement, Tribe, Tehri
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  • Published : October 11, 2011
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UGC Junior Research Fellow at Department of History, Jadavpur University, Kolkata.

The women of Chipko movement have added to the world’s consciousness of environmental issues significantly by their slogan of ‘mitti pani aur bayar’. Major afforestation programmes have also been launched as a result of the movement. To celebrate the Chipko week (30th May to5th June) let us spread the message of Chipko to protect our natural resources from the onslaught of corporate capitalism. The wave of women’s movement in India is still enriching itself with the ‘ecofeminism` of the Chipko movement in many ways than one. This struggle of Bhutia tribal women still inspires us when today we celebrate the environment day.

The tribal society has its own history, its own structure and therefore the gender issue is constituted out of the tribal history and tribal culture. Though the tribal society is not homogenous its gender issues are different from the non-tribal society. The emerging discourse of women’s movement also influenced the tribal society. The women’s movement in India can count itself among the lucky ones – an “old” social movement that has played a substantial role in contemporary struggles, ebbing, flowing, and reinventing itself in myriad ways. Thus when we look at the women’s movement in India we shall have to look back at the whole historical forces. To refer to Indu Agnihotri and Vina Majumdar we would say that the women’s movement has gone into several forces. These authors assess the importance of these forces as under –

“In contemporary India the resurgence of the women’s movement and its contours have to be seen in the light of: (1) the crisis of state and government in the 1970s going into the emergency; (2) the post-emergency upsurge in favour of civil rights; (3) the mushrooming of women’s organizations in the early 1980s and the arrival of women’s issues on the agenda; (4) the mid 1980s marked by a fundamentalist advance; and (5) the 1990s when the crisis have deepened with regard to state, government and society.”1

It was in the late 1960s and early 1970s that signs of crisis in the Nehruvian model of state-led development planning became palpable, leading to the first loss of legitimacy for the Congress government and the rise of a range of new social movements, all of which culminated in the imposition of a state Emergency in 1975. The emergence of a new phase of the women’s movement from the 1970s onwards therefore took shape in a context where the primary institution to address was the Indian state. For those women who had taken the claims of Nehruvianism and the constitutional guarantees of equality seriously, the biggest shock of 1970s was the realization of the invisibility of women in the overall developmental process. Thus fresh challenges were encountered, and new areas of concern opened up.

According to Ramchandra Guha and Madhav Gadgil, the lopsided, iniquitous and environmentally destructive process of development in independent India is led by an “iron triangle” of politicians and bureaucrats who use public resources to extend patronage to, and receive support from, industry, large landowners, and urban middle class populations. These resource “omnivores” live on islands of prosperity at the cost of India’s vast numbers of “eco-system people” who are submerged in a sea of poverty. Faced with a diminishing resource base, the subsistence rendered more and more precarious, eco-system people –the rural landless and marginal farmers, artisans, pastoralists, tribal groups, and fisher folk –end up becoming “ecological refugees”, joining the ranks of impoverished migrant labourers in urban slums. And their women folk suffer most. By centralizing state power in the hands of technical and scientific experts, justified in the name of “national interest”, India’s rich traditions of decentralized governance, especially in the...
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