Sunderlal Bahuguna: The Man Who Taught India to Love Nature
Sunderlal Bahuguna aged 94, who died with COVID-19 on Thursday, was one of the pioneering leaders of the environmental movement in India. He is an irreplaceable gem for many different reasons. A Gandhian background, grounded culture and the down-to-earth lifestyle in Garhwal Himalayas made him the exceptional man he was all his life.
He was an inspiring image compared to other environmentalists of that era, from urban and privileged backgrounds. As Bahuguna started creating waves across India in the late 1970s and 80s, his efforts fuelled the already existing fledgeling green movement in India, that started to take shape.
Bahuguna’s Gandhian background is deeply connected to the cultural and traditional system, which synced with the broad political spectrum. The Garhwali environmentalist is best known as one of the leading Chipko Movement leaders. He dedicated his life to saving the environment and taking steps to improve India’s situation.
Sunderlal Bahuguna was born in Tehri, Uttarakhand in the year 1927. He lived his life in a rural setting and started an ashram. Bahuguna was just 14 years old when he participated in social activities.
You may have heard about the Chipko movement, an environmental movement in 1973 which created revolution across India and the world. Whenever authorities came to cut the trees, people would hug them to prevent anybody from destroying them. Sunderlal Bhauguna was one of the leaders who fuelled the movement through his 5,000-kilometre march.
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He was committed so committed to the purpose that in 1981 he refused to take Padma Shri as deforestation was rampant in the Himalayas.
Bahuguna was also against the Tehri Dam project. He even went to jail for it in 1995. As a follower of Gandhi’s principle, he used satyagraha tactics. He went on a hunger strike at Bhagirathi and his age did not deter his spirit. As late as 2018, when Bahuguna was 91, he interviewed and expressed his concerns that dams are creating calamities and expressed concern that lack of trees can make way for Char Dham road and Pancheshwar dam.
Some of Sunderlal Bahuguna’s literary works include Dharti ki Pukar, Ecology is a permanent economy, Bhoo Prayog Mei Buniyadi Parivartan Ki and India’s Environment – Myth and Reality.
In a letter, he states that the Himalayas is a land of penance – nothing can be achieved without it. Why should rivers, mountains and forests be killed, as we clutch on to our own lives? Sunderlal Bahuguna will be remembered as a man of the earth, who devoted his life to save it!