Friday, March 26, 2010

In History: Gaura Devi

This is the 18th post in a weekly feature here at Spare Candy, called "In History." Some posts might be little more than a photo, others full on features. If you have any suggestions for a person or event that should be featured, or would like to submit a guest post or cross post, e-mail me at rosiered23 (at) sparecandy (dot) com.

On March 26, 1974, Gaura Devi (pictured) led a group of 27 women of Laata village, Henwalghati, Garhwal, Himalayas, to form circles around trees to stop them being felled, thus sparking the Chipko Movement in India. For years, people in the Himalayas had been fighting to protect their land and its resources, and this action was the start of years of women significantly contributing to the effort. The story is really an incredible one*:
On March 26, 1974, the day the lumberers were to axe the trees, the men of the Reni village, and DGSS (Dasholi Society for Village Self-Rule) workers, were in Chamoli, diverted by state government and contractors to a fictional compensation payment site, while back home labourers arrived in a truckload to start the logging operation. Finally on seeing them, a girl rushed to inform Gaura Devi, the head of the village Mahila Mangal Dal, at Reni village. Gaura Devi led 27 women of Reni village, reached the site and confronted the loggers. When all talking failed, and instead loggers started shouting and abusing the women, threatening them with guns, the women resorted to hugging the trees to stop the them from being axed. This went on into late hours, and the women kept a whole night vigil guarding their trees from the cutters, until a few of them relented and left the village. The next day, when with the men and leaders back, the news of the movement spread to the neighbouring Laata and others villages and more people joined in. Eventually after a four-day stand off, the contractors left. (via)
Surviving Members of the Original Reni Squad at the Chipko 30th Anniversary 2004.

The Chipko movement is so interesting on its own, but in this day and age of climate change and how that affects women, it's also extremely relevant. I can't recommend reading up on this enough, and in fact, if anyone has any book or article recommendations to share with me, I'd love to hear them.

*Note: There are many variations of the story about Gaura Devi's actions on March 26. Actually, the date itself varies from story to story, but it's generally given as happening around March 26. In some reports, the women do not actually hug the trees, just threaten to do so. In other reports, they stand guard over the loggers, preventing them from cutting down trees that way. However it happened, it's still pretty incredible.

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