Saturday, February 25, 2006

Inspiring Indeed!

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
-Margaret Atwood

Many of the success stories in the environment field have revolved around individual initiatives, time and again reinforcing that it is possible to tackle the most difficult problems if the people who are affected, and those who are concerned, decide to do what can be done. Here are some inspiring examples...

In Calcutta, a group of people, who used to meet at a local teashop decided to clean and restore an urban water body that was once their favourite hangout. In time, they not only breathed life into the water body but also changed it into a haven for young and old alike to spend the evenings in nature’s company. Again, it is the cooperation of the locals with the government-appointed body that helped revive Chilika, an endangered wetland, and a Ramsar site along the east coast of India.

The Himalayan hills abound with such success stories. For the people of the mountains the environment is not an issue, it is a matter of survival. Every aspect of their life, from the necessities to the luxuries, from occupation to relaxation, is tightly bound to nature, to such an extent that if they do not look after their immediate environment, they will perish. There have been uprisings against mining, there has been a ‘Beej Bachao’ or save the seeds campaign and many others, but my favourite example remains the Chipko Movement.

The original ‘Chipko movement’ was started around 260 years back in the early part of the 18th century in Rajasthan by the Bishnoi community. A large group of people from 84 villages led by a lady called Amrita Devi laid down their lives in an effort to protect the trees from being felled on the orders of the Maharaja of Jodhpur. After this incident, the Maharaja gave a strong royal decree preventing the cutting of trees in all Bishnoi villages.

The movement was revived in the 20th Century by the women of Gopeshwar, a village in the mountains of the Himalayas, under the leadership of Chandi Prasad Bhatt to prevent indiscriminate felling of trees for commercial purposes. Bhatt proclaimed, “Our aim is not to destroy the trees but to preserve them. When the men go to cut them, why don’t we cling to the trees, and dare them to let their axes fall on our backs?” (Chipko means “hug,” or “cling to.”) As he described it, he locked his hands together in a posture of embrace. People were struck by the novelty of the idea and amazed by its efficiency. The movement was a very practical one. It was not totally against the felling of trees, because they recognized the need of the people living in the plains for mountain products. The movement only urged the judicious use of trees, to cater to the need and not the greed of people.

The triumph of the movement led women from other villages to adopt the same tactics. The movement gained momentum and spread to many parts of the country under the leadership of other stalwarts like Sunderlal Bahugana. It forced the Indian Government to reconsider its environmental policies and to make favourable changes.

Let's take the cue from these examples and realize that every individual contribution matters... after all, isn't it little drops of water that make the mighty ocean?

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