Book on Chipko Movement wins Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize

The Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize 2022 has been awarded to The Chipko Movement: A People’s Movement by historian and activist Shekhar Pathak, translated from Hindi by Manisha Chaudhry. 

The award, now in its fifth edition, is given for non-fiction on contemporary India by writers of any nationality, and carries a cash award of 15 lakhs, a trophy and a citation. 

The prize citation calls Mr. Pathak’s book “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,” it reads. 

This year’s shortlist of five included Accidental Feminism: Gender Parity and Selective Mobility Among India’s Professional Elite by Swethaa S. Ballakrishnen and 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 round off the list. 

The jury for the award consisted of political scientist and author Niraja Gopal Jayal, entrepreneur Manish Sabharwal, historian Srinath Raghavan, historian Nayanjot Lahiri, former diplomat Navtej Sarna, and attorney Rahul Matthan.

Historian and Padma Shri-awardee Shekhar Pathak has lived in the Himalayan region for years and conducted extensive research into the Chipko Movement, engaging with local communities and leaders. He established the People’s Association for Himalaya Area Research (PAHAR) in 1983 and also penned Asia ki Peeth Per (On Asia’s Back), a biography of the Himalayan explorer Pandit Nain Singh Rawat, along with Uma Bhatt. 

The 1973 Chipko movement is regarded as the harbinger of modern environmentalism in India. A non-violent protest, the movement curbed the felling of trees and spurred debate about Indian forest policy, sustainable development, and the need for ecological balance between forests and local communities.

While several works have focused on Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Sunderlal Bahugana, the movement’s major leaders, Mr. Pathak’s book covers the ordinary people of the movement, such as Gaura Devi, and shows that it was “diverse in leadership and ideology and was never a singular Gandhian movement,” according to a press release announcing the award.  

The Kamaladevi NIF Book Prize was named for Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, an eminent freedom fighter who also championed the cause of women’s rights, refugee rehabilitation and local handicrafts. 

Past awardees of the prize have included Milan Vaishnav for When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics, Ornit Shani for How India Became Democratic, and Jairam Ramesh for A Chequered Brilliance, a biography of VK Krishna Menon. Last year’s prize went to Dinyar Patel for the biography Naoroji: Pioneer of Indian Nationalism. 

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