ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design

21. An hug to ask Respect

Two women arms hag a tre

In India, deforestation is a serious issue. As the population keeps growing, the request of raw materials for commercial purposes increases as consequence.  Yes, even in India, where many myths tell of goddesses laying on tree branches, gifting humanity with prosperity. The same India where, every day, people offer leaves and flowers to the gods, and where the trees themselves are considered divine manifestations.


Not everybody agrees, of course, and sometimes people raise their heads against this indiscriminate deforestation. Sometimes, the voice that lift from the crowd is feminine – after all, Mother Nature is a woman in this part of the world as well!
You might have heard about Arundhati Roy (writer and activist) and Vandana Shiva (biologist that works for the bank of seeds); their names reached the rest of the world. But they were not the first: the Chipko movement operates non-violent resistance through the act of hugging trees to prevent them to be cut down.
The Chipko movement started in 1730, in the Rajasthan of maharajas, even though the concept of respecting the plants goes far in the past. In the XV, an enlightened Guru Jambheshwar created a cult, compiled 29 rules, the bishnoi (bish = 20, noy = 9) and a sect of followers who believed in a more fair and supportive society that could respect both humans and nature.
The arid lands where the vast majority of the Bishnoi population lived was full of trees and gazelles that could run throughout the man-made clay villages (see  Franck Vogel’s reportage).

In 1730 the Jodhpur Maharaja was building a new palace – following the tradition for every maharaja must build an architectural masterpiece in remembrance of his great power and wealth. And so he needed wood to melt the lime. Knowing that in the land of the Bishnois there were many trees, he ordered his men to go there, cut down what they needed and come back.
And so, on a Tuesday morning, the people of Khejarli found themselves surrounded by and army of men with hatchets, ready to cut their trees. Amrita Devi, a mother with two daughters, tried to convince the soldiers to spare the trees, since they were sacred to their religion.
But the soldiers didn’t listen. And so Amrita Devi hugged a tree and said: “Sir santhe runkh rahe to Bhi Sasto Jan” (if trees can be saved at the cost of our heads, well, even then it is a good deal).
The story ends in tragedy. The soldiers took her by her words and cut the trees… As well as her head, and the heads of 362 more Bishnois that were emulating her.
When the soldiers came back to the maharaja, he immediately regretted the choice he made. So he swore he would no longer cut trees in their land. Every year, between August and September, India celebrates a festival in honor of the martyrs. That is how the Chipko movement was born.


Many centuries after, history repeated in Uttar-Khand, the Himalayan region that was stroke by a terrible flood in june 2013. It was 1973, right after the maharaja’s era. This time the man with the hatchets were sent by a renowned entrepreneur.
Another bold women – Gaura Devi – was there, and she hugged a tree in honor of the bishnoi women. Other women followed, and the workers eventually stopped. But this time there’s an happy ending to tell!
From that day, Chipko movement became more and more influent. There were many victories and many defeats as well. A hug won’t save the planet, but the picture is, indeed, powerful.

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