Indian villagers hug trees (Appiko) to stop deforestation in Karnataka, 1983-1990

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Timing
Time Period:  
September
1983
1990
Location and Goals
Country: 
India
Location City/State/Province: 
Sirsi, Karnataka
Location Description: 
State in South Central India
Goals: 
To prevent the deforestation of the Western Ghats forest surrounding the town of Sirsi, Karnataka, and oppose the development of a mono-cropped teak plantation.
 

In the early 1970s logging companies increased in Northern India. Forests in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh quickly declined due to the expansion of the industry and private investment of entrepreneurs interested in the newly accessible resource.

Subsistence farmers, whose livelihoods were dependent on the forests, faced the consequences: massive erosion and landslides, reduced fertility of the soil, reduced access to firewood, degradation of fresh water supply and increased flooding.

In 1973, a group of local villagers came together to protest the felling of trees in the region of Uttar Pradesh by embracing the trees, physically placing their bodies between the loggers and the forest. This action, known as the “Chipko” movement, spread rapidly and successfully halted the mass felling of trees for commercial use in Northern India (see Indians embrace trees (Chipko) to stop logging activity, 1971-1974).

In the district of Uttar Kannada, southwestern India, local villagers faced similar attacks on their trees. Forest coverage went from 81 percent in 1950 to less than 25 percent by 1980.

In the early 1980s, the Karnataka Department of Forestry opened for logging the forests of Western Ghats, which spread across the state of Karnataka. The government proposed the construction of a pulp and paper mill, a plywood factory and a chain of hydroelectric dams to control the rivers in the Western Ghats.

In 1983 the Forestry Department decided to clear cut additional forest around Sirsi, Karnataka, a village in northern Uttar Kannada. They intended to replace it with a monoculture teak plantation, a highly profitable venture.

Local villagers were outraged at the proposition of clear-felling ancient trees and replacing them with a foreign species. Livelihoods in the Sirsi region, which were highly dependent on the forest for resources, were also in great danger. Young men and women of Sirsi began to write letters of protest to the state government requesting that they stop the felling of these sacred trees. The government did not respond.

Inspired by the Gandhian principles of nonviolence and the efficacy of the Chipko campaign in Northern India, villagers decided to take matters into their own hands. Led by Pandurang Hegde, the group adopted the principles of the Chipko campaign and one of its leaders, Sunderlal Bahuguna. Thus the “Appiko” (embrace) campaign was launched in the southwestern Indian state of Karnataka.

Pandurang Hegde, who studied under Sunderlal Bahuguna in Delhi, requested the assistance of his mentor and leader of the Chipko movement. On 8 September 1983, Hegde, Bahuguna, and people from villages surrounding Sirsi, Uttar Kannada, undertook an 8-kilometre trek into the forest to obstruct the government tree-felling site. The villagers physically embraced the trees and placed their bodies between the workers and the trees to prevent them from being cut down.

The loggers grew frustrated and tried to negotiate with the campaigners, without success. For weeks, villagers, including women and children, trekked into the forest to embrace the trees. After some weeks, the workers withdrew from the site, halting the deforestation project.

On 14 October, after thirty-eight days of nonviolent obstruction by the villagers, the government finally withdrew orders to cut down the trees.

However, the villagers and Hegde were not satisfied. The group wanted the government to stop all clear-cutting in the whole state, not just in this one particular area. Villagers rallied together and marched through the state, raising awareness about the deforestation. Groups separated and performed street theatres, depicting damage caused to ecosystems and livelihoods. The protesters also used musical performances to gain attention as the groups travelled through the province.

As they gained supporters, the members of the Appiko campaign began performing tree-hugging sit-ins in threatened forests across the state.

In 1985, the government ceased all mono cropping operations in Karnataka, and by 1987, public concessions to the industrial plywood factories ended. Campaigners continued to rally and spread awareness fighting for full banning of tree felling. During this time, they continued to embrace trees on sites where deforestation continued, and wrote letters to the government to request this policy change.

Finally, in 1990, the government of Karnataka completely banned felling of green trees.

The Appiko campaign of 1983-1990 then made further efforts to educate citizens about the importance of protecting the natural environment. Across India citizens have since launched new campaigns to protest further destruction of forests, rivers, and lakes.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The Appiko campaign was influenced by the Chipko campaign in 1971-1974 (see Indians embrace trees (Chipko) to stop logging activity, 1971-1974)(1)

The "tree hugging" action of the Appiko campaign influenced nonviolent movements and campaigns in forested areas across south India and began the Appiko movement. (2)

Sources: 
Asian News International. (2008) 25 years of Appiko. Retrieved March, 2013 from http://www.lexisnexis.com.libproxy.uwinnipeg.ca/lnacui2api/results/docview/docview.do?docLinkInd=true&risb=21_T16890404764&format=GNBFI&sort=BOOLEAN&startDocNo=1&resultsUrlKey=29_T16890404768&cisb=22_T16890404767&treeMax=true&treeWidth=0&csi=344861&docNo=21

Karan, P. P. (1994). Environmental movements in India. Geographical Review. 84(1) pp. 32-41. Retrieved March, 2013 from http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.uwinnipeg.ca/stable/pdfplus/215779.pdf?acceptTC=true

Seabrook, J. (2004). Interview with Pandurang Hedge. New Internationalist. 373(33). Retrieved March, 2013 from http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.uwinnipeg.ca/docview/200036156/abstract?accountid=15067

Seed, J. (Producer), & Pike, N. (Director). (2006). Appiko to embrace [Documentary]. Rainforest Information Centre. Retrieved March, 2013 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=il8FFhwWMuw

Sharma, S. (2008). Making sense of the Appiko movement. The Hindu. Retrieved March, 2013 from http://www.hindu.com/2008/09/22/stories/2008092252801100.htm

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Courtney Klassen, 06/03/2013