The Chipko movement is popularly recognized as the most famous and successful environmental movement in India's history. The term ‘chipko’ is commonly translated from Hindi as ‘hug’ or ‘embrace’ and it refers to a method of protest in which one embraces a tree in order to prevent its felling (Right Livelihood Awards (RLA), 1987; Karan, 1994). The contemporary Chipko movement is best known for a string of protests that began in the 1970s, which most prominently involved an increasingly large number of peasant women. The majority of these protests occurred in the Himalayan foothills in the region of Uttarakhand (Fig. 26.1). A majority of the Indian Himalayas lie in this region, which borders both Nepal and Tibetan China. As two of the most heavily forested states in India, Uttarakhand (formerly Uttaranchal) and Uttar Pradesh have long been relied upon for their supplies of natural resources, which have been regarded as critical to national economic development (RLA, 1987). While organized resistance against restrictive and unjust economic devel- opment and environmental policies have occurred elsewhere in India, the materialization and manifestation of the Chipko movement reflects the specific multi-scalar social, political and ecological processes which constituted social life in the late 1960s Uttarakhand, and which was itself later reshaped by these distinctive patterns of struggle.
This case study examines Chipko movement activity at the specific regional scale of Uttarakhand in order to examine how social movements emerge from spatially-embedded power relations and social contexts.