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Remembering Sunderlal Bahugana, the man who hugged trees to save them4 min read

May 21, 2021 4 min read


Remembering Sunderlal Bahugana, the man who hugged trees to save them4 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

At 12:05 p.m. today, the well-known environmentalist, Sunderlal Bahugana bid adieu to the world due to complications that arose out of COVID-19. He was 94 years old.

In his lifetime, he spoke against the destruction of forests, and mobilised rural masses to resist against damage to the environment. Owliver remembers him by looking back at the rich life he lived.

Early Life

Sourced from The Print

Sunderlal Bahugana was born in Uttarakhand in 1927. At the age of thirteen, Bahugana was already engaging in social activities under the guidance of the social activist Shri Dev Suman. A believer in the Gandhian way of life, he fought against untouchability and organised the women from his area in an anti-liquor drive. Along with his wife, Vimla, he remained in rural India and worked at the grassroot to create a green wave throughout the country. He was one of the leaders of the Chipko movement.

How Sunderlal Bahugana met Shri Dev Suman, in his own words:

My inquisitiveness to know about a strangely dressed young man, who was dressed neither like the officers of the state nor like the poor subjects with loin cloth, but was putting on white Khadi cap, Kurta, jacket, dhoti and chappal, inspired me to chase him. He had a small box in one hand and a bag in another hand. I guessed he must be somebody like an archer who had demonstrated his feats in archery and we were so much impressed that we left going to the school for some days and followed him… The idea came to my mind that his small box must contain something of our interest. I along with a few friends asked, what are you carrying in your small box. He very gently replied, “Come, I will show you.” He sat under a banyan tree, opened the box and demonstrated his feat. He was spinning yarn. Looking at this new wonder, we said, “It may take you a year to produce yarn sufficient for a shirt.” He promptly replied, “Whether I get enough yarn for my shirt or not, Gandhi says that we can end the British rule and become independent, if every Indian starts spinning.” This is also how Bahugana found the Mahatma.

Excerpt from Daily Pioneer

“Ecology is permanent economy”: Bahugana

Sourced from India Today

The Chipko movement was a movement against the felling of trees by forest contractors. It started in 1974 in Uttar Pradesh’s Chamoli district, now in Uttarakhand. The movement mobilised women from the hills to partake in protecting the environment. The work chipko means ‘to hug’. A big group of women hugged trees to deter the lumberjacks from cutting them. This movement was led by three local women, Gaura Devi, Sudesha Devi, and Bachni Devi.

Sunderlal Bahugana gave this movement a direction with its famous slogan— Ecology is permanent economy.

He gained ground for the movement with a 5,000-kilometer trans-Himalaya march from 1981 to 1983. He travelled from across villages gathering support for the cause. He met with the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, to share his concerns over the brazen attack on the environment. It is believed that it was this meeting that led to the 15-year ban the Prime Minister imposed on the felling of trees in sensitive areas.

In 1981, he was awarded the Padma Shri, which is the highest civilian honour. Bahugana refused to accept it due to the continued rampant felling of trees in the Himalayas

He was also a defender of rivers, and he ardently protested against the construction of Tehri Dam on the river Bhagirath in Uttarakhand. In 1995, he went on a 45 day fast ending it only after getting a confirmation from the then Prime Minister that the project’s viability will be reviewed by a special committee. Again, he went on a 74 day fast to protest its construction. He fought against the construction of the dam for decades. However, the ruling in favour of its construction was passed in 2001.

Sourced from Scroll

In 2009, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honour.

Sunderlal Bahugana was one of India’s earliest environmentalists. Hear him talk about why he did what he did, here:

Sourced from The Print, India Today, The Hindu, The Indian Express , Daily Pioneer , and Scroll