restricted access Chapter 11 Srinagar to Kohima: An Educational Mission
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Chapter 11 Srinagar to Kohima An Educational Mission It was an overcast day in Srinagar, the capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, when with one companion, the seventy-two-year-old Rattan Chand Dehloo, a sarvodaya worker from Himachal Pradesh, Sunderlal Bahuguna set out on a journey by foot to the town of Kohima in Nagaland almost five thousand kilometers to the east. Sunderlal decided to undertake this ambitious journey after a prayerful fast of eleven days in Uttarkashi, in which he reflected on the best method to spread the chipko message. He states that in April 1979 he was isolated for standing by the hill women’s slogan, first articulated in their demonstrations in the Advani forest: What do the forests bear? Soil, water, and pure air! This slogan, he says, became the inspiration of a small group of activists who hoped to save those sectors of humanity that are threatened by the horrors of air and water pollution, desertification, and other ecological disasters. He felt he should spread this message far and wide. Through his reflections, he decided on a method he had used many times before. He states, as he had stated before, that the great teachers of mankind, and their unknown disciples, walked thousands of miles to spread their message, and it is because of their hard penance that these humble messengers of faith still reign over the hearts of the people. On April 12, 1981, when he announced his plans for this ambitious journey, his decision came to many as a surprise. He states that he could understand this reaction among the armchair social workers. But he noted also that many who regarded themselves as activists had difficulty digesting the idea. Thus while many people admired his endeavor, hardly anyone was willing to share the hardships and hazards of such a march. Sunderlal was not 149 150 Ecology is Permanent Economy deterred by the isolation. From years before he had learned to accept the hazards that fall to one who swims against the tide. He found strength in the famous words of Bertrand Russell: “An adventure seeker must be able to withstand isolation, neglect and ridicule, to overcome oppression, tyranny and exploitation, to withstand hunger, thirst and fatigue. At times he must be prepared for dynamic dangerous living whether it be on the cornice of a mountain or a battle for the defense of his convictions.”1 Bahuguna’s purpose in undertaking this padyatra was threefold. First, he wanted to get an overall picture of the condition of the Himalayas , the degree of ecological damage already done to the forests, and the results that can be expected if policies are not changed. Second, he wanted to publish and publicize his findings, especially to the decision makers who had the best hope of undertaking changes in forest policy. His third purpose was also the most personal. This, he expressed most explicitly to a group of Bhutanese villagers midway through the trip: “The foot march is to share our anguish with our brothers and sisters in the Himalayas from Kashmir to Kohima, anguish caused through the distress of Mother Earth in this region.”2 In an interview he gave during his travel through Bhutan, he develops this purpose further. “Many people see Chipko as a localized movement, restricted to Garhwal, we wanted to give a wider perspective and to widen the base of this movement to other regions in Himalayas.”3 The two set out without a single rupee between them. Their fortunes and their sustenance would be dependent upon the hospitality and good will of the villagers they would meet along the way. Two weeks before the journey, he and Rattan Dehloo had met to arrange for contacts along the way and the route to be taken. The evening before their departure, they had requested and received the blessing of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, then chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. When the chief minister met the two, he inquired whether they would be able to make the journey all the way to Kohima through such difficult terrain. Sunderlal replied that if God was willing, He would give him the strength needed for the journey. They left on May 30, a commemoration of the martyrdom of forest protestors at Tilari in 1930. On that date in 1968 Sunderlal and others had taken a pledge to work toward a harmonious relationship between the forests and themselves. They began their journey after a short farewell function...