Environmentalism in India, like anywhere else in the world, is about managing contradictions and complexities between the rich and poor or between people and nature. Unlike the rich world, where environmentalism was born after the creation of great wealth, the seed of environmentalism in India grew up amid enormous poverty and inequity. Women around the world have played a critical role in managing natural resources in families and communities. The birth of the most iconic environmental movements of the World like The Chipko movement, The Navdanya Movement, Save Silent valley, Narmada Bachao Andolan originated and progressed with women being at its forefront.

On World Environment Day, we are giving an ode to all the women environmentalists in our country (GUARDIANS OF GREEN), who in their diverse roles stayed true to their cause and kept on inculcating the ideologies of a sustainable future in the face of uncountable adversities:


Vandana Shiva is a Delhi based Agro-ecologist, Co-Founder of an NGO Navdanya, who has dedicated her life to three causes – Environmentalism, Anti-Globalization and Eco-feminism. Undoubtedly, she has served equal justice to all three of them. As an environmentalist, she has extensively supported the idea of organic farming. She is often referred to as “Gandhi of grain” for her activism associated with the anti-GMO movement. She has authored more than 20 books already. In, 2003, Shiva was identified as an ‘Environmental Hero’ by the Times Magazine and was also awarded the 1993 Right Livelihood Award which is considered equivalent to The  Nobel Prize.


An octogenarian poet, environmental activist effectively led Save Silent Valley – a nationwide people’s movement to protect some of Kerala’s oldest natural evergreen forests from being submerged by a proposed hydroelectric project. Sugathakumari also served as the secretary of the Society for Conservation of Nature in Thiruvananthapuram and was also the first recipient of the Indira Priyadarshini Vriksha Mitra Award from the Government of India for her contribution to ecological preservation. She persisted to be a voice against formative tasks undermining the wetlands, woodlands and individuals of her home state until her final gasp.


Sunita Narain is an environmentalist and political activist, who was a major proponent of the Green concept of sustainable development. Narain is the Director-General of the India-based research institute The Centre for Science and Environment, Director of the Society for Environmental Communications, and editor of the fortnightly magazine, Down To Earth. She advocates that poor must be put at the core of the sustainable development agenda. Narain asserts that poor and poverty isn’t the biggest polluter in India but rather its extractive and exploitative economies. Often referred to as The Mother of Indian Environmental Science, she was awarded Padma Shri in 2005 for her extraordinary work.


“Life is hard but happiness is a choice.”

Saalumarada Thimmaka, a centenarian who chose serving environment as her comfort and a way to a fulfilled life.  Having no children, living through abject poverty, social ridicule and outrageous behaviour from many didn’t stop her from becoming an incredibly famous environmentalist. Hailing from Karnataka, she is noted for her work in planting and tending to 385 banyan trees along a four-kilometre stretch of highway between Hulikal and Kudur. She has planted more than 8000 trees and has been awarded Padma Shri in 2019 for her outstanding services to the environment.


A politician, animal rights leader as well as an environmentalist. In 1994, Gandhi established People for Animals, the largest organisation for animal welfare in India. She put stock in Ahimsa and the way that India needed a development to stop the coldblooded treatment allotted to animals. She has anchored a TV program “Heads and Tails” and authored a book under the same title. For her revolutionary work among animals welfare, she has received the absolute most noteworthy honors in the world. You can follow her articles in the fortnightly magazine TERI.


We as a whole know Sunder Lal Bahuguna but Gauri Devi merits an equal acknowledgement. The Chipko development began in 1974 had Gauri Devi at its bleeding edge who coordinated the ladies to embrace the trees and prevent their cutting. She was the head of the Mahila Mangal Dal, at the Reni village. The day the lumbermen were to cut the trees, Gauri Devi drove 27 ladies to go up against them. She initially tried to talk them out of it, but soon the lumbermen resorted to abusing and threatening. The women thus decided to hug the trees to stop them from being felled. They guarded the trees all night until the lumbermen surrendered and left. News of the movement soon spread to neighbouring villages and people joined in. The same acts were rehashed in other parts of Uttarakhand and thus women were seen as providing environmental solutions.


A popular environmentalist, she is known for her dynamic job in the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) – an incredible mass development against the development of a multi-purpose dam on the Narmada River. The proposed Sardar Sarovar Dam is a multi-crore project and would uproot around 320,000 individuals from their homes. It was affirmed that unfamiliar assets were being utilized to hamper recovery. Medha Patkar was likewise worried that individuals living there had no clue about the undertaking. She framed the NBA in 1989 and has been included since. As a peaceful way to dissent, she occupied fasting a few times. NBA has subsequently created high-level awareness. She has also been involved in protesting against corruption along with Anna Hazare.


Sumaira Abdulali is an environmental activist zeroing in on sand mining and noise pollution. She is the founder of NGO Awaaz Foundation. Sand mining, which has now become an issue of global concern was first reported by her to the authorities after she noticed sand being illegally mined from Kihim Beach in 2004. Her other focus campaign against noise pollution has become a citizens’ movement and has forced policy change in India through court interventions, awareness and advocacy campaigns. In 2019, Mumbai was the solitary city in India where noise pollution altogether diminished during the whole celebration season and where the Government of Maharashtra pronounced it as an anti-noise pollution year in 2018.

Writer: Shivani Bhatia

Editor and Team Lead: Tanya Kaushik

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Shivani Bhatia
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