The best known case of this is the Chipko movement in the Himalayas (Hegde, 1998; Weber, 1987). The villagers rallied together to save their forests by hugging the trees from the axe of the contractors who were issued licenses without the consent of the local people. Much earlier to this movement, though similar in its action is the story of the Bishnois in the desert state of Rajasthan (CSE 1984-85). The religious tenets of the community prevent them from causing any harm to any living thing.
A few centuries ago a situation arose when the ruler ordered the cutting down of the trees of the area. The people of this community protested. They hugged the trees to protect them and in the process paid a very heavy price. The king’s men ruthlessly chopped down the protesters before chopping down the trees. Even today the villages of the Bishnois are a pleasant sight where trees 76 IGES International Workshop grow all around inspite of the desert like environment and various animals like the endangered Blackbuck find freedom and safety in a people’s sanctuary.
In addition, across the country there are innumerable sacred groves (Gadget, 1975; Gadget and Vartak, 1976; Induchoodan, 1991; WWF, 1996); patches of forests that have had a sacredness and sanctity attached to them for centuries. Often it is a forest dedicated to the local deity and in many places like in the western ghats these remain the only surviving examples of the rich and virgin forests that once clothed the mountains. More recently we come across the well-documented cases where communities are taking the initiative in protecting their forests.
For instance Jardhar (Kothari, 1995) is a village in the Garhwal Himalayas about 12 hours drive away from New Delhi. Here the village has come together on its own initiative to protect the forests on the hills around their village. With the help of the Delhi based environmental group Kalpavriksh they have even prepared a community register of their biological, ecological and environmental knowledge. Additionally they have a ‘Beej Bachao Andolan’ (Save the seeds campaign) wherein the villagers have taken it upon themselves to save the great agricultural diversity of their area and have started a seed bank on their own.
Similar is the case in the Alwar district of Rajasthan where the coordinated action of a series of villages; protecting the forests, preventing grazing, tree cutting, and building a series of small bunds across the water streams has actually brought the river Arvari back to life (Patel, 1997). The river which had over the years turned into a seasonal stream now once again flows perennially. Enthused by the initiative of the villagers the government too responded positively and schemes like those under Joint Forestry Management are being implemented in the area.