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South Asian Activism: From Environmentalism to Human Rights

By: Zahin Quayyum

Asian activism has been around for decades, and is as diverse in its goals as it is in its people. Whether it be fighting for independence, fighting for the environment, or fighting for their fellow humans in dire need, they have managed to attack these issues with not only their minds, but also their rich and deep culture. By incorporating their heart and soul into their endeavors, they have been successful in reaching their goals, shaping a better society for themselves and those around them.

“Tree huggers”: The Chipko Movement

India has always been known for its abundant resources. Columbus set off in the hopes of acquiring precious spices, Britain colonized it for it their tea and cotton, and with each attempt to grab a piece of India’s wealth, it subjected India to great harm to their environment, and surrounding communities.

But these abuses may not even have to come from overpowering empires, but rather India’s own desire to grow its economy. In the early 1970’s, foreign-based logging companies began to seek India’s lumber, which was rich in forests that laid along the rural Himalayan region, and India opened their arms to these companies in the hopes of further development. As a result, logging companies began to rapidly cut down trees and caused deforestation. This caused a slew of other problems for the villagers who lived in the areas. The trees provided as a natural barrier for water that came from the mountains, with their absence causing problems such as erosion, lower agricultural output, and flooding in multiple areas.

The villagers decided that their trees were not something that could be so easily stolen from them, and took up a nonviolent way to prevent the destruction of these trees. From encouragement and support from an NGO in the region, Dasoli Gram Swarajya Sangh, village women as well as children gathered around the trees and hugged them to prevent them from being cut down. Even when faced with abuse from the lumberjacks, they refused to leave the trees alone. In being committed to the one thing that provided to their livelihood, they came together in nonviolent protest and sparked similar protests around the country.

The Chipko protests lead to major environmental reform as well, with a 15-year ban on green felling in the Himalayan forests under then prime minister Indira Gandhi. The movement as also stopped the cutting of trees in the Western Ghat area in South India, as well as in the Vindhya range in western central India.

The Chipko movement is a glowing example of what people, faith and perseverance can accomplish, showing how people can band together and initiate substantial environmental change.


Zahin Quayyum is a Bengali woman currently living in Queens, New York. She is a pre-med student, and currently volunteers at a lab in the city. In her free time, she enjoys writing for Overachiever Magazine to connect with her South Asian roots, as well as educate herself about current Asian activist issues. She also enjoys learning about the different perspectives of women from all over Asia. She also enjoys watching The Good Place and obsessing over her skincare routine.


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