One begins on the majestic slopes of the Himalayan foothills. It is a story of epic proportions. Men and women of a small Garhwali village are exhibiting the audacity to doggedly protect their relationship with the natural world. Their resistance, it can be argued, is helping sustain the fragile mountain ecosystem they call home, and we call “nature”. Through a participatory van panchayat the villagers of Makku are making the statement that the marginalized and oppressed throughout history have made: We should have the right to utilize our own resources, in ways we see fit. The forest to them is their only capital, their only insurance. But their lives aren’t easy living on a Himalayan ridge and farming off stepped plots.

They lack many of the amenities that people in urban centers take for granted. And with easy access to cheap technology, especially cell phones, they are more than ever aware of the “luxuries” of the outside world. Yes, they are eking out lives in this isolated valley, but given the chance would they move to Dehradoon and Delhi? Is money after all just money whether you get it from working at a Delhi construction site or you get it from tending to the forest? As we found out from the village youth that stood bemused at the presentation by the van panchayat, they just wanted to leave as soon as possible. As one of them wryly noted, “I wish we had a dam here. Then at least we would have jobs.” Who had the moral higher ground, the elders that defiantly stuck to their mountain, or the youngsters that wanted to experience “a better life”?

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