Fourteen people have lost their lives, and over two hundred are missing after after a portion of Nanda Devi glacier broke off in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district on February 7, 2021, causing massive flooding of the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers.
While the exact reason for the glacier breaking off is yet to be ascertained, experts point towards climate change and increased human intervention in the ecologically sensitive Himalayan region, as probable causes.
Incidentally, in 1973, Chamoli district was the birthplace of the modern day Chipko movement. Local women came together to protect an ash tree forest which was handed over to a private company for commercial purposes. The villages clung to the trees and sang folk songs, until the authorities retreated and returned.
A few key figures of the movement included Bachni Devi, Gaura Devi, and Sudesha Devi, and was spearheaded by CP Bhatt and Sunderlal Bahuguna. Chipko, which in Hindi means ‘to stick to’ has become an umbrella movement of sorts, synonymous with protesting to conserve the environment and fighting the private sector. This is clear indication that for decades, the locals were aware of the consequences that residents will have to face if natural resources continue to be depleted.
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The first Chipko movement can be traced to 1730, when Amrita Devi mobilised villagers to prevent the trees from being felled in Khejarli village, on the instructions of the Maharaja of Jodhpur. Reports suggest that around 363 members of the Bishnoi tribe were beheaded as they hugged the trees to prevent felling. This news forced the Maharaja to pass a decree disallowing cutting of trees in the area.