Gaura Devi – 1925 – 1991
High in the Northern Himalayan Mountains, Gaura Devi was born to a family of wool traders whose very existence depended on the environment in which they lived. From childhood, Gaura’s mother taught her to respect the forest from which they collected twigs each day for use in cooking and heating the family’s water. For, she was told, the trees roots held the mountain together which kept the soil from eroding down the hillside and washing their village away with the rains.
By the time she was 22, Devi had been married, birthed a son, and been widowed. Though she was uneducated and poor, the single mother was respected by her community and thus asked to lead the Women’s Welfare Association in her village of Rani, India. The 1970’s arrived, giving way to large-scale clear-cutting of the forests surrounding their village. Devi and her group of men and women villagers sprung into action, using Gandhi’s method of non-violent protest to protect the forest. On the day the trees were to be cut, however, the men of Rani had been called away, leaving only the women to confront the loggers. Gaura and 27 women marched into the forest that day, protecting the trees by hugging them. If the loggers wanted to cut the trees, she said, they would have to go through the women first. For three days and three nights the women hugged the trees, spreading their message of humans tie to the environment, stating that to ruin the forest is to destroy human’s chances of survival. On the fourth day, the ax-bearing men left. It was a great victory for Gaura Devi and her group who became known as the Chipko Movement.
Their victory not only saved the forest but was the first all-female environmental protection movement. Ms. Devi passed in 1991 at the age of 66 and with her, died the Chipko Movement. Much of the land she worked so hard to protect was felled, leading, as her mother and she had warned, to a catastrophic environmental disaster that claimed the Uttarakhand village on June 17, 2013.
Together, the Chipko Movement inspired numerous environmental groups and causes since their inception.
Many books have been written about this amazing, brave, strong woman, including:
“Emancipated Women-Folk of Uttarakhand,” by the Himalayan Research Action Center
“Lessons from the Mountains; The Story of Gaura Devi,” by C.S. Lakshmi
“Terrains of Resistance; Non-Violent Social Movements and Contestation of Place in India,” by P. Routledge.