The Reportage

Baiga: The forsaken child of Jungle book country

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Baiga: The forsaken child of Jungle book countryBy Jaison Wilson

Bhopal: Kariwah, one of the tribal villages in the core of Kanha – the largest tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh that inspired ‘Jungle book’, the famous novel of Rudyard Kipling is also the ancestral home of some indigenous people. Unfortunately, they were evicted this year in the name of tiger conservation despite their clear opposition.

Conservation of tigers in a country that considers them as the national animal is not just significant as it is the only reason. The sustenance of these big cats in an overpopulated country itself shows the seriousness of the matter. Tiger’s habitats are also important as tigers since they are wonderful creatures of nature preserving water treasure and balancing flora and fauna.

But long before the upcoming tiger lovers and modern experts, there were some pictures of co-existence between the tiger and human race in the buffer zones of Kanha and Bandhavgrh tiger reserves of Madhya Pradesh.

According to sources, like Kariwah Nine villages of the Baiga and Gond tribes were moved from the forest area between 2010 to 2015. About seven villages still exist in the core zone of Kanha while over 36 had been moved slowly since 1969.

“According to our research, none of the evictions having been carried out required legal procedures,” says International Human Rights Organisation ‘Survival International’ senior campaigner Sophie Greg in a statement. The Baigas saw themselves as people of the forest, considering labour as cheap and could only live on the produce of the forest.

Baiga children with the elder from Khatia village .

Though the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 concerns the rights of forest-dwelling communities to land and other resources, tribals populating the 1,134 sq km area of Kanha’s buffer zone were either ‘voluntarily’ or ‘illegally’ evicted from forests in the name of conservation.

“The people in a village Jholar had been threatened that the forest department would release elephants into their village to trample on their houses and fields if they did not agree to move. This was after with many years of threats and harassment”, says Ms Sophie of Survival International.

The Baiga have made it clear that they are not frightened of the tiger and they, like many tribal people in the country, revere it. A Baiga man doesn’t want to reveal himself says,” I would happily sleep alone in the jungle and know that ‘my little brother’ tiger would not attack me, we are not scared of anything inside the forest, we are only scared of the forest officials.”

He added, “The jungle is in serious trouble – if it doesn’t remain then all of the animals inside will die. If we can’t stay, the jungle won’t survive. The forest guards don’t know how to look after the tiger. If they see one, they bring groups and groups of foreigners to see it. This really harms the tiger, but the park guards can’t see this.”

The Baiga are not a threat to the forest or the tiger, the lush green jungle meant everything to them. J S Chauhan, the Field Director of Kanha National Park said, “Without the cooperation of the tribals, there is no way that tigers could flourish here. It is because of their experience and help that we are able to protect our tigers better.”

He doesn’t seem to have seen the irony of this, given they have spent decades forcing the Baiga to leave their villages, while fee-paying tourists are welcomed in. The Baiga have made it clear, that they did not want to leave their forest, but they faced appalling harassment as they tried to go around their daily lives in the forest. According to news sources, Baiga man, Bhardan Singh was severely beaten by guards for collecting wood in 2011.

Another Baiga man of anonymity says, “I went in to collect wood. And, I went up the tree to get it. When I was up the tree, the forest guards came in and they started beating me. Because they hit me, I fell off the tree. When I fell down they continued beating me. When I fell, I split my hip bone and I couldn’t stand. I crawled to the edge of the forest…I didn’t even see them. Five to one… I still get pain now. They beat me with big thick long sticks. With a nobble at the top. I feel sadness; I feel pain. I also feel anger. But what can I do? The guards just left me and walked away. Anything could have happened.”

The Baiga who were evicted from Kanha in 2014 were not given the option of new houses and land but instead were told that they would be given 10 lakh in compensation. Officials however deny this, “No village from the buffer zone is to be shifted. However, if they leave voluntarily, they will avail the benefit of the packages,” said Field Director of Kanha National Park. He added that villages from the core zone only are being shifted.

According to the recent census, Madhya Pradesh now has 308 tigers against 257 in 2010. There are approximately 131 Tigers in Kanha National Park and national figures of tigers too showing their increased numbers.

Isolated

The park spread over an area of 200-300 square kilometres and houses the Royal Bengal tiger, leopards, the sloth bear, Indian wild dog, wild cats, foxes and jackals among other animals. It is also home to over 1000 species of flowering plants. In a parallel situation, tourism is flourishing from annual 2,000 tourists in the 1980s to 1,50,000 at present and the national park gains worldwide attention of wildlife tourism.

Wildlife expert and photographer Anant Zanjale told this visiting correspondent, ” There should be a new conservation model that protects tribal rights and at the same time they can be the official guardians of nature” The Baiga can help protect the tiger, they could have been the eyes and ears of the forest, protecting the tiger against poaching but only with the help of authorities.

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