The New India Foundation announces the winner of the Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize 2022. The coveted book prize in its fifth edition has been awarded to 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).
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 INR 15 lakhs, 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.
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.”
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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.
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. Shekhar 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.
Every scholar and serious student of Indian environmentalism will need to engage with the empirical richness and analytic solidity of this path-breaking book.
Shekhar Pathak is the quintessential historian-as-fieldworker: he has lived in the many valleys where the Chipko protests took place, studied their landscapes, and talked at length to protesters and communities. He has trawled through local newspapers of the 1970s and 1980s and conducted oral interviews with the movement’s leaders and foot soldiers.
He has travelled to virtually every hamlet of Kumaon and Garhwal, and his knowledge of the Himalaya is widely acknowledged to be encyclopaedic. He is an indefatigable mountain-walker who has been traversing 1100 kilometres on foot once every decade, starting in the village of Askot on the Nepal border in the east and ending in Arakot in Himachal Pradesh. He established the People’s Association for Himalaya Area Research (PAHAR) in 1983 and is the author, with Uma Bhatt, of Asia ki Peeth Per (On Asia’s Back), a biography of the Himalayan explorer Pandit Nain Singh Rawat. He has published numerous pamphlets and several issues of the journal Pahar over the years. He has also been a professor of History at Kumaun University, Nainital, and Fellow at the Centre for Contemporary Studies, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2007.
Manisha Chaudhry is a leading bi-lingual editor, writer and translator. Having worked in the area of feminist publishing and translation, she has been a publishing professional since 1986. Active in multilingual children’s publishing, she has spearheaded many initiatives to promote reading among children and bring equity in primary education. With a firm commitment to working for social change, her work sits in both the activist and literary spaces. She currently heads Manan Books, a publishing house for children, teachers and young people.
About the NIF Book Prize
Established in 2018, the Kamaladevi NIF Book Prize builds on the New India Foundation’s mission of sponsoring high-quality research and writing on all aspects of Independent India. The Book Prize celebrates high-quality, non-fiction literature by emerging writers from all nationalities, published in the previous calendar year. The prize was named after Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, the great patriot and institution-builder who had contributed significantly to the freedom struggle, to the women’s movement, to refugee rehabilitation and to the renewal of handicrafts.