Sunderlal Bahuguna was born January 9, 1927 in the village of Maroda, near Tehri, India. He is a Garhwali environmentalist and a leader of the Chipko Movement. His philosophy is based upon Gandhi's Satyagraha or Truth Force Principle. Vimla Bahuguna is his wife and his children are Rajiv Bahuguna, Mahuri Pathak and Pradoep Bahuguna.
He is an example of a householder who lives in an ecological way in line with the Vedic Philosophy, which promotes ecology in every phase of one's life. The Chipko Movement first developed in the 1970s. Women of the villages of India hugged trees to save them from the loggers. His slogan was, "Ecology is permanent economy." He travelled from village to village from 1981 to 1983 in the Himalayan area educating people and drumming up support for the movement. He met with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who instituted a 15-year ban on cutting green trees in 1980 in Uttar Pradesh State. He worked closely with Gaura Devi, another Chipko Leader.
He also protested the building of the Tehri Dam for decades. He went on fasts and was arrested on April 20, 2001 for protesting against the dam. This is the 10 year anniversary of his arrest. He worked for temperance and for the rights of hill working women who were trying to make a living from the trees.
In 1987 he received the Right Livelihood Award for his great environmental work. In 1995, when he was 70, he told the Prime Minister that "the Himalayan glaciers were receeding at an alarming rate. If this was not checked, the glacier feeding the Ganges would disappear within 100 years." He has suggested that the "mountain slopes be covered with trees giving food (nuts, seeds, flowering trees for honey and seasonal fruits), fodder, fuel and timber, leaf fertiliser and fibre trees. Each family should be given land to grow 2000 trees and a subsidy to rear these trees." In 2009 he received the Padma Vibhushan Award, India's second highest civilian award.
The Chipko Movement was upheld and supported by many women. They set up coops to guard the trees, organized fodder production and land rotation for the fodder and helped replant trees with native species. Women are always there when great social progress happens. It is the Mother Principle at work.
He says his mother worked very hard from 4 a.m. until 10 p.m. loading firewood and fodder grass. He remembers, "She would say, 'Oh God! Give me death.' I could not forget those words. The hill women still ask for death from the gods. Their lives are very miserable. Sometimes, in order to end their misery, they plunge into the river. My last wish is to end this misery so that no woman is forced to repeat the words of my mother. This is why I am still struggling."
Trees are so important to the ecology of India. Ranchor Prime in Vedic Ecology says, "Trees captured the moisture of the heavy monsoon rains and released it gradually into the river system, ensuring a steady year-round supply of water to the plains. They also held the fragile mountainsides in place. Without tree-cover they became disaster areas." Flash floods, landslides and the drying up of the mountain springs, loss of topsoil, fuel and fodder became problems in India starting in the 1950s. These problems are also happening now worldwide as well as in India.
Krishna in the Puranas delivered his great discourse on the ecological greatness of trees. He calls them great beings in how they live for others and he explains the whole ecology of what trees given every living being on Earth: fuel, shade, fruits, nuts, charcoal and many other great things. What Krishna is describing is the great love of trees for every creature on Earth. It is time we love them as they love us.
Sunderlal says, "The Yamuna River, where Krishna bathed, is something living; she is loved by Krishna, too. When the many-headed poisonous serpent Kaliya came and polluted the Yamuna with his venom, Krishna drove him away. And who is Kaliya? He represents the pollution of our present day! This pollution is the Kaliya snake and every citizen has to play the role of Krishna today. That means you have to become like Krishna--a lover of life, at one with the Universe. Until then you can not save this river from being polluted; you can not save this world from being exploited by the demons like Kaliya."
We must become like Krishna in the sense of restoring the river to its greatness. Sunderlal believes humanitarian scientists, social activists and compassionate artists, musicians and writers combining resources and uniting together will make the difference.
Unity is the key to solving our environmental problems. The ancient ecological principles of Vedic Philosophy are so relevant now. Teachers and priests must get real and relevant and talk about ecological principles. Some priests and teachers think the West needs to get ecological only and deny the ecological problems in India and worldwide. Some laugh at the idea of Earth Day as being a Western idea. I like the idea of focusing a day on ecology world wide. It gets people to at least think about it and do some thing constructive. We all need to get ecological. The ancient principles of planting trees will help us in these times of Global Warming. Many scientists have agreed with this idea. As Krishna was one of the first ecologists, let us also be ecologists by planting a tree or supporting an environmental organization. On Earth Day and Arbor Day trees are planted all over the planet. Let us start a yearly ritual of planting trees or donating to an environmental organization. Join me in this ritual this year. Google the Windstar Foundation. They have many ideas on the environment and links to other environmental organizations. Then say a prayer or chant for Mother Earth.
Sunderlal now travels, writes and educates on the environment, besides being a social activist in his own region of India and all over the world. He is an example of the idea that the common person, using low tech solutions like planting trees, can make a difference. Happy Earth Day!
JAI SHRI SUNDERLAL!, JAI SHRI CHIPKO! JAI SHRI KRISHNA!