This autobiography shows us a man whose strength, resilience, largeness of heart, and unshakeable belief in social equality encompass a pan-Indian and international message much larger than Chipko: had Mahatma Gandhi been reborn in the Garhwal Himalaya, he could not have taken better shape than Chandi Prasad Bhatt.
Born into a poor Brahman family of temple priests, Chandi Prasad began life as a peasant who herded cows, tilled fields, and attended village schools. Though he learned Sanskrit to follow the family profession, he soon switched to becoming a ticketing clerk in a private bus company. From the start, however, he felt his calling lay elsewhere, and hearing the Sarvodaya messages of Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan he renounced the security of a salaried career in favour of full-time social work.
Gentle Resistance narrates a monumentally admirable life. It outlines the core sympathies of a man who fought to make women the equals of men, and who rejected caste to embrace Dalits as no different from himself. Beyond that, it shows us an unfamiliar aspect of India – peasant life in forested mountains where demanding weather conditions, a fragile ecology, and lack of opportunity blend into an eco-system being changed only now by consumerism and modernity.
Everyone interested in India’s mountains, social movements, and environmental history will want to read this extraordinary autobiography.
Chandi Prasad Bhatt (1934– ) is the Gandhian activist best known for the pioneering groundwork which led to the start of Indian environmentalism. In the early 1970s it was he who first urged Himalayan peasants to “hug the trees” as a form of non-violent protest against the logging of age-old forests, resulting in the internationally renowned Chipko Movement.
Samir Banerjee (1949– ), the translator, has been involved with the non-formal and non-governmental sector in India as an activist and academic. His scholarly interests include the environment, organic farming, adult education, and Gandhian thought. His latest book is Tracing Gandhi: Satyarthi to Satyagrahi.