Sunderlal Bahuguna

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Environmental Stewardship
Sunderlal Bahuguna has contributed globally through awareness raising measures concerning deforestation, the negative effects of liquor on mountain life, and the health of the Ganges River. He will be most remembered in history for igniting a grassroots movement for protecting the environment.

Biographical Highlights

Sunderlal Bahuguna is an eco-activist (an eco-activist is a person who works to address ecological problems then challenges the system that created the problem and works to bring healthy ecological balance back) from India. Sunderlal has spent his life working to educate Indian villagers, protesting against ecological destruction by the government and protecting the Himalayan Mountains. Mr. Bahuguna has had an active role within the Chipko and anti-Tehri Dam movements. Sunderlal has struggled for change in all of the above areas using peaceful resistance. He learned from Mohandas Gandhi to use peaceful means to bring major changes for his community. As a Ghandian peace worker he does not resort to violence to achieve the change he is working toward.


Historic Roots

Sunderlal Bahuguna was born about 1927 to an affluent family in a Himalayan village. Despite his family’s wealth, Sunderlal’s mother worked eighteen hours a day most days to finish the work considered only fit for women. Watching his mother struggle under the burden of village life and work served as an early impetus for Sunderlal to ease the burden of Indian women.

When Sunderlal was only thirteen years old he began a political career. His older friend Sridev Suman influenced him. Suman was the foremost nonviolent nationalist. Sunderlal learned how to create change through nonviolent means from his mentor. Sunderlal’s political career lasted until his marriage in 1956. Following his marriage to wife, Vimla, Sunderlal retired from public life and moved back to a village within the Himalayas.

By 1960 Sunderlal could no longer ignore the devastation around him. Sunderlal began moving throughout the mountains and providing strength and encouragement to the mountain women to eradicate alcohol from the mountains. Traditionally these Hindu people do not consume alcohol; however the drink was flowing heavily between India and China, influencing many in its path.

Directly following the elimination of the threat of alcohol, Sunderlal and the women of the mountains turned their energy to another prominent threat, the deforestation of the Himalaya Mountains. The British government and then the Indian government came into the Himalayan Mountains and began clear-cutting the forests. The ecological effect was devastating for the mountaineers. Sunderlal worked with others to ignite the Chipko movement. Chipko literally means tree huggers. Sunderlal and the local women would chain themselves to the trees so that the loggers could not cut the trees down. This method often slowed the work and brought attention the government’s actions. The Chipko is still working to protect the trees today through the same nonviolent methods.

Sunderlal is most famous for his work to stop the creation of the Tehri Dam. This Dam affects the flow of the Ganges River from the Himalaya Mountains. The intention of the Tehri Damis to divert water from wandering through the mountain villages and increase water flow to New Delhi. This will cost the mountain villagers their supply of water. Because of the Dam many women must now wait all night for their family’s allotment of four liters of water per day. To show his opposition to the Dam, Sunderlal has petitioned the government and gone on hunger strikes to show his unfailing commitment to stopping the Tehri Dam Project. The Tehri project began in 1972. Sunderlal protested with many others until 2004. Finally in 2004 the Dam began to fill and Sunderlal and his wife Vimla were forcibly moved to a government issued home upstream. Sunderlal has vowed that this is not the end; he will continue to fight for ecological protection in India.



Sunderlal Bahuguna has contributed globally through awareness raising measures concerning deforestation, the negative effects of liquor on mountain life, and the health of the Ganges River. Through his work, Sunderlal has become synonymous with the Chipko movement. He was one of the first people to point out the fallacies of judgment when creating the Tehri Dam. Sunderlal’s outspoken views have ignited the young people of India into action to perpetuate the protest against the ecological ruin imposed on India. He will be most remembered in history for igniting a grassroots movement for protecting the environment.


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

All of Sunderlal Bahuguna’s work is a form of philanthropy in motion. Sunderlal has given his time and talent freely to work of the good of India. Sunderlal has not established or contributed to an existing foundation. He has, however, been the catalyst of change encouraging thousands of people to work without pay for the good of India’s people and ecology.

Along with his wife, Vimla, Sunderlal has “taught in the villages, mobilized people against colonial rule, worked for the welfare of the harijans (the untouchables), lobbied against deforestation and encouraged forest-based small-scale industry.” (Goldsmith)


Key Related Ideas

  • Chipko Movement is the title of a movement that spread through India during the 1970’s. Chipko literally means to “embrace”. People, mostly women, would chain themselves to trees that government officials planned to cut down.
  • Ghandian Peace Worker is a person who embraces the ideas concerning nonviolent resistance that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi demonstrated. Himalaya Mountain Range extends from Bhutan through China, India, Nepal and Pakistan.
  • The Himalaya Mountains include the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest.
  • Nonviolent Resistance describes nonconformity to the government or another form of governing power through civil disobedience, protests or marching to demonstrate an idea or belief.


Important People Related to the Topic

  • Chandi Prasad Bhatt (a contemporary of the following two men): C.P. Bhatt began working to educate villagers among the Himalayan Mountains in 1956. Much of Bhatt’s teachings focus on the protection of the Himalayan Mountains from deforestation. C.P. Bhatt is also a leader within the Chipko movement.
  • Mahesh Chandra Mehta (1946 —): Mr. Mehta works within India to preserve historical sites from pollution and destruction. Mr. Mehta is the recipient of the Magsaysay Award.
  • Professor Veer Bhadra Mishra (1939 —): Professor Mishra focuses his efforts to cleaning and protecting the Ganges River. He is head of the clean Ganges campaign.


Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Leh Nutrition Project is currently working to protect 25 river basins throughout India from human degradation and pollution. The project is headed by, Chewang Norphel. Norphel is a civil engineer who oversees canal development and watershed protection.
  • The Sankat Mochan Foundation is a nonprofit, non-affiliation group whose mission is to clean and protect the Ganges River water from pollution and sewage. 
  • The World Wildlife Fund works to protect the freshwater dolphins living in the Ganges River. WWF advocates for the animal life within the water and for protection of the Ganges River waters. 


Bibliography and Internet Sources

  • Bahunguna, Sunderlal.  Enviroment and Education.  The Cultural Dimensions of Ecology.
  • The Chipko Movement.
  • Dutt, Amanda.  An Interview with Sunderlal Bahuguna.  Rediff on the Net. 1996.
  • Freshwater Dolphins in Ganges.  World Wildlife Fund.  6 March 2006.  
  • Frontline.  “My Fight is to save the Himalayas.”  Vol 21-Issue 17 August 2004.  
  • Goldsmith, Katherine.  A Gentle Warrior.
  • Interview with Sunderlal Bahuguna.  Euttaranchal.
  • Non Governmental Organizations.  Reach Ladakah.  2002.