People’s participation has a long history in India. In 1731, the king of Jodhpur in Rajasthan asked one of his ministers to arrange wood for constructing a new palace. The minister and workers went to a forest near a village, inhabited by Bishnois, to cut down trees.
The Bishnoi community is known for its peaceful co-existence with nature. The effort to cut down trees by the kings was thwarted by the Bishnois. A Bishnoi woman Amrita Devi showed exemplary courage by hugging a tree and daring king’s men to cut her first before cutting the tree. The tree mattered much more to her than her own life.
Sadly, the king’s men did not heed to her pleas, and cut down the tree along with Amrita Devi. Her three daughters and hundreds of other Bishnois followed her, and thus lost their lives saving trees. Nowhere in history do we find a commitment of this magnitude when human beings sacrificed their lives for the cause of the environment.
The Government of India has recently instituted the Amrita Devi Bishnoi Wildlife Protection Award for individuals or communities from rural areas that have shown extraordinary courage and dedication in protecting wildlife. You may have heard of the Chipko Movement of Garhwal Himalayas. In 1974, local women showed enormous bravery in protecting trees from the axe of contractors by hugging them.
People all over the world have acclaimed the Chipko movement. Realising the significance of participation by local communities, the Government of India in 1980s has introduced the concept of Joint Forest Management (JFM) to work closely with the local communities for protecting and managing forests.
In return for their services to the forest, the communities get benefit of various forest products (e.g., fruits, gum, rubber, medicine, etc.), and thus the forest can be conserved in a sustainable manner.