Published: 26th June 2018
From Instagram influencers to WhatsApp insurgency, how Delhi's Chipko 2.0 is saving their trees
'If you want to cut trees, you'll have to get through us first' - This was the sentiment echoed by every protestor who was against the central government's order to chop down 16,500 trees in New Delhi
Everybody has heard about the Chipko Movement. What happened in Delhi last weekend was a real throwback to a form of protest that was in vogue forty-something years ago. What was delectably different, though, was the infusion of smart social media hacks like influencers on Twitter and Facebook joining the protest, several WhatsApp groups driving the campaign and the addition of activists and tree lovers from all over the country showing up to hug a tree!
#TBT: What is the Delhi tree protest about?
Dense smog, deplorable Air Quality Index, depleting green cover... That environmental problems are choking New Delhi is a well-known fact. Yet, paying no heed to fact or fiction, the Central Government had ordered the felling of as many as 16,500 trees in seven areas of the city, namely, Sarojini Nagar, Nauroji Nagar, Netaji Nagar, Thyagaraja Nagar, Mohammadpur and Kasturba Nagar. This order was issued for the redevelopment of the area and construction of government flats. Citizens immediately reacted sharply to this government order as they understood that losing that many trees, where each tree provides oxygen for at least five humans, means a loss of oxygen so large in quantity that no amount of new saplings will be able to make up for it anytime soon.
Out and about: Protestors gather near a tree with placards
Modern-day Chipko: Version 2018
So, it was on June 23, that Delhiites, young and old, decided to take matters into their own hands and planned a protest against the central government’s order. Repeating history, citizens decided to hug the life-giving trees to save the trees from losing theirs. New Delhi gave Gen Z a little throwback to the days of the Chipko Movement, where as many as 15,000 people tied green ribbons to trees, in an act of befriending them and hugged them as they would hug a best friend. After they filed a PIL, relief came, albeit temporary, in the form of a stay order from Delhi High Court that prevented felling of trees till July 2. But citizens remain on high alert. We talk to some of the frontrunners of the protest, though all of them vehemently denied the aforementioned title stating that it is a citizen movement, to see why they will continue to remain on their toes and protest till justice is served.
Fight the green fight into the good night
"Delhi has become a gas chamber, the air is not breathable anymore. This has instilled a certain fear in the hearts of the citizens and this fear is good," says Vikrant Tongad, an environment conversationalist. It is this fear, he believes, which made citizens — kids, teens, adults and elders alike, to the streets of New Delhi to protest. "We don't even need a celebrity or a known-face to grab attention because we already have the country's attention," says Tongad and rightly so. "Our Honourable Prime Minister Modji delivered an inspiring speech at the recently concluded World Economic Forum in Davos, where he talked about three threats - Environmental changes, terrorism, and countries who think solely for themselves. But the ground reality is different. There is a proposal to cut trees in an area not very far away from his office, yet he is quiet," says Tongad, imploring us to stop talking and debating and start doing. "Trees are fighting pollution to give fresh air which keeps us alive, it's time we fight for them," concludes Tongad.
The Chipko Movement itself dates back to 1730 AD where protestors have been known to have hugged trees in order to prevent them from being cut
Delhi bound to join the tree tirade
Activist Satish Kumar Pendyala from Hyderabad got in touch with the team in Delhi and offered his help. He reached the capital on Saturday and joined in the protest with full gusto. He explains how while the Delhi and the Central government are busy playing a blame game, citizens are planning their protest carefully. "There are volunteers, who have offered to work closely with us. We have divided them into groups and allotted them different responsibilities. These groups will take care of social media management and patrol the area during the night to ensure trees are not being cut. While there is one team dedicated to day-time protesting, there is a legal team as well, which will take matters to the Supreme Court if need be," says Pendyala who is from Youth For Better India. Many people expressed curiosity upon seeing someone from the South travel to Delhi to participate in their protest shares Pendyala, who calmly told them, "Delhi is not the capital of South India or North India, it is the capital of India and we are concerned about it too."
Power of a ping
Knowing what a powerful medium WhatsApp can be, Prerna Prasad created a WhatsApp group and added a few influencers for the purpose of protest. Soon, things snowballed and before she knew it, several people were a part of it. On the strength of this word-of-mouth alone, as many as 15,000 people had turned up on Sunday. "We will continue the relay protests, where every day, a bunch of us will be protesting. We will not stop doing so until the order to cut the trees is rolled back," says the 29-year-old Prasad, echoing the determination of each and every protestor.
Big hug: Protestors seen hugging the trees
Let us breathe
Housewife and environment enthusiast Chhavi Mehta, who is coordinating with the media regarding the protest, explains how, "development doesn't mean harming the ecological balance. What we want is sustainable development." Expressing shock over the central government's order she tells us how some of the trees are 50 years old and that the oxygen levels they produce cannot be matched by saplings that the government is proposing to plant. "Moreover, they are not being clear about exactly where they are going to plant them," says the 42-year-old. Talking about the apathy of the government, she says, "They don't care about the environment but we need air to breathe. They need to either plan sustainably or face our wrath."