One realizes the passage of times only after being told by our old friends and colleagues about how big and grown up our children have become and now when my daughter Srishti is giving her class tenth ICSE board exams, I am also realizing how old I have become! Her environmental education paper is next week and as person interested and involved in environmental issues, I happened to see that her syllabus had Chipko movement as one of the success stories towards striving for a better environment. I don’t know how much more to tell her about Chipko movement at this stage, but the mention of Chipko made me recollect my first visit to Reni village, about twenty two years back along with Gaura Devi, the lady who was the pillar behind the village women to stop forest contractor’s men to stop felling trees by hugging them. That was the time when as a research fellow, I was looking into the status of the health care delivery system in Chamoli district and had done a lot of background reading and had also read about the Chipko and the role played by the village women in the movement.
In the beginning while staying at Gopeshwar, I had the privilege to meet and discuss social and health issues with Chipko leader Chandi Prasad Bhatt. It was my good fortune to see and meet Gaura Devi at that time in Gopeshwar. She had come down to Gopeshwar to attend some programmes organized by Chandi Prasad Bhatt. The shine in her face, the confidence in her look and her mere presence on the occasion could be noticed by one and all.
She had been photographed on so many occasions and in many places but never got a copy of the same, she complained. I took this opportunity and called the local photographer immediately and ensured that she gets the copies. I took the opportunity to visit her village and so early next day; both of us were on the bus to Reni. While paying the bus fare for both of us, she insisted to pay her fare. She agreed only after I lied that the payment was official money for the trip. In the bus journey to her village, I had so much to know and so limited myself to only questions and listen to her all along the journey. It was nice talking to her and I found her simple and down to earth.
Once reaching the village road head, we walked uphill to reach her home. I could not keep pace with the strong old lady and she had to stop few times, so that I could catch my breath. That day, the village lady health worker was having an informal meeting with few women and it was a great occasion for me to interact with the health worker and the women in the village. Even Gaura Devi joints the group and I could see the respect, command and leadership qualities in her. To me, Gaura devi symbolized that collective action, strength, leadership and women power in our country. Gaura Devi is no more, but the spirit of her leadership and women power will always be remembered in all environmental and human rights movement in the country.