Chipko commemorates Gaura Devi incident

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Group Dance(Dehra Dun, January 31) On 26 March 1974 Gaura Devi with other women at Reni village in Chamoli Garhwal drew worldwide attention by adopting a noble non-violence method of saving trees by hugging with trees and saying, “First cut us, before cutting our trees.”

The women forced the contractors to abandon the forest without cutting a single tree.

This incident turned a milestone for the Chipko Movement. Commemorating thirty years of the brave act of Gaura Devi, celebrations have begun in the Niti valley, where Reni is located.

The Lata village, in Chamoli district, organised the first ever Nanda Devi Women’s Festival on 26 January to recognize the achievements of the region’s women. Villagers from eleven villages, including Reni that made headlines in 1974, participated.

Presently a Cricket Tournament in the memory of Govind Singh, who was a regional organizer for the Chipko Movement, is going on at Lata. Eleven teams are fighting it out for the ‘Community rights trophy’. Many such programmes are slated to take place in the Niti valley with the main programme slated for 26 March.

On the success of the women festival Dhan Singh Rana, a member of the organising committee,” Our aim is to make the festival an annual affair.” The hallmark of the recently concluded Women’s Festival was felicitating those women who practice traditional medicines and to host several other competitions to promote indigenous skills. Gunchhi Devi (82), who treats ‘Ghamjwar’, a fever due to excessive sun exposure during the onset of summer, and Sureshi Devi (62), another famous traditional health practitioner, were honoured.

It was a touching moment for unsung heroes like Himmatu Lal, only person to know incitation of mask dance, and Nattha Singh, porter who has found mention in many travelogues on Nanda Devi, who were awarded on the occasion. Among other competitions the wool-spinning contest turned out to be a big draw and women in large number took part.

The Reni village is located near the Nanda Devi Biosphere, which was reopened by the state government last year after a gap of 20 years. Though Dr. Sunil Kainthola, a social activist, terms the women festival a new beginning but on the reopening of the biosphere he says, ” Tourism in Nanda Devi needs to be more community based.”

— By Raju Gusain, HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, February 1, 2004
New Delhi edition (Late city)