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The Heart of Chipko

Sudha Vasan

By Antje Linkenbach
Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 329, Rs. 695.00


Prest Futures presents a thought-provoking ethnography of village life in Rawain (western Garhwal), a region that originated, and was affected and influenced by the Chipko movement. Given the international attention the region• has received, and the multiple interpretations that observers have given for the origins and nature of Chipko, how do local people perceive the forest, forest struggles and rights, development? What impact does all this have on their everyday relations to forests? Linkenbach's study addresses these questions in the context of a region that lies on the margins of what is considered the centre of the Chipko movement.   The book begins as most anthropological books today do with questions of methodology, particularly emphasizing the insider! outsider dilemma and how this was overcome. Uis is followed by the mandatory socio¬historical sketch of Uttarakhand, with special reference to Garhwal. The third chapter describes the history of struggles against commercial forest exploitation in this region. The narrative structure of this chapter emphasizes the competing discourses surrounding Chipko. The 'many Chipkos' that the author describes provides the foundation for the argument made in the book about the ground realities that exist in the plural. The author identifies several significant distinctions between dominant discourses and various narratives of local activists and villagers (p. 63): (a) local narratives focus on parochial pictures rather than present Chipko as a coherent movement that joined people and places in Garhwal and Kumaon; (b) they accentuate the distinctiveness• of targets. The leading narrative (shared and propagated by Sunderlal Bahuguna) constructs 'Chipko as an uninterrupted movement, with different goals in different stages, with the emphasis on ecology superseding the focus on economy. Local narratives perceive and approach the forest issue in its entirety and usually reject any attempt to isolate and pursue the 'eco¬nomic' and 'ecological' aims as mutually exclusive or oppositional; (c) local discourses reveal a situation of competition and rivalry between participants in different localities who follow divergent ideas. The inclusion of local voices that support the leading narrative of Sunderlal Bahuguna, if any, would have added balance to this picture.   These arguments are supported further by the discussion on two major divergent activist perspectives in the fifth chapter. The fourth chapter in between is a very basic summary of two of the many narratives on• ecology and development at the global/national-level and does not add much here. Specific local commentaries reflecting on these narratives drawn ...

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