Book on Chipko Movement wins Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize

Book on Chipko Movement wins Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize

The Chipko Movement: A People’s Movement by historian, activist, and writer Shekhar Pathak, translated from the Hindi by Manisha Chaudhry (Permanent Black & Ashoka University), has won the Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize 2022, the New India Foundation (NIF) announced on Thursday.

The winner was selected from a diverse shortlist of five deeply researched and engagingly written books covering a wide expanse of modern Indian history and encompassing distinct topics and perspectives. These included Accidental Feminism: Gender Parity and Selective Mobility Among India’s Professional Elite by Swethaa S. Ballakrishnen (Princeton University Press); The Chipko Movement: A People’s History by Shekhar Pathak, translated by Manisha Chaudhry; Whole Numbers and Half Truths: What Data Can and Cannot Tell Us About Modern India by Rukmini S.; Midnight’s Borders: A People’s History of Modern India by Suchitra Vijayan; and Born a Muslim: Some Truths about Islam in India by Ghazala Wahab.

The Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize recognises and celebrates excellence in non-fiction writings on modern/ contemporary India by writers from all nationalities. The winner receives a cash award of Rs 15 lakh, a trophy and a citation.

The winner was selected by a six-member jury panel including political scientist and author Niraja Gopal Jayal (Chair); entrepreneur Manish Sabharwal; historian and author Srinath Raghavan; historian and author Nayanjot Lahiri; former diplomat and author Navtej Sarna; and attorney and author Rahul Matthan.

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The Jury citation for the Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize 2022 reads: “This is the definitive history of the Chipko movement by a scholar who has practically lived it. It is fitting that a book that tells the story of a movement through the eyes of the local communities, especially women, should be as readable as this one is. Translated from the Hindi by Manisha Chaudhry, Shekhar Pathak’s book is a salutary reminder of the transformative, and not just an important work of history but one that speaks to the contemporary moment and its twin crises of ecology and democracy.”

About The Chipko Movement: A People’s History

In India, modern environmentalism was inaugurated by the Chipko Movement, which began in 1973. Because it was led by Gandhians, included women participants, occurred in “spiritual” Himalayan regions, and used innovatively non-violent techniques of protest, it attracted international attention.

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It also led to a major debate on Indian forest policy and the destructive consequences of commercialisation. Because of Chipko, clear-felling was stopped and India began to pay attention to the needs of an ecological balance which sustained forests and the communities within them. In academic and policy-making circles it fuelled a wider debate on sustainable development – on whether India could afford to imitate the West’s resource-intensive and capital-intensive ways of life.

Chipko’s historians have hitherto focused on its two major leaders, Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Sunderlal Bahuguna. The voices of “subalterns” – ordinary men and women such as Gaura Devi who made Chipko what it was – have not been recorded. Pathak has lived in their valleys, studied the landscapes, talked to protesters and communities, and trawled local newspapers of the time. He shows that in leadership and ideology Chipko was diverse and never a singular Gandhian movement.

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