A life in wilderness

Jumbo problem

A life in wilderness

Elephant menace has made life miserable for the tribal communities residing on the periphery of Nagarahole National Park. Their relocation plans have also hit a dead-end due to the apathetic attitude of the authorities. Only a proactive approach can rebuild the ruined lives of these tribals, writes Rajesh Shrivana.

Theirs is certainly a cry in the wilderness. The tribals residing on the fringes of Nagarahole National Park in Virajpet taluk of Kodagu district live in perpetual fear of wild elephants. 

“Our life is worse than that of wild animals. We are compelled to spend days and nights in the fear of attack by wild animals. They raid our farmland, destroy crops and even take our life. The authorities concerned are deaf to our pleas for rehabilitation,” P S Motaiah, a leader of tribals, said. Given the plight of tribal families, there appears to be truth in the exasperation of Motaiah. 

Tribal communities such as Yaravas and Jenu Kurubas have been living for generations together in hamlets (haadi) such as Chenihadlu, Jangaladi and Ayirsuli in the Anechowkuru forest range of Virajpet taluk. A tar road demarcates the boundaries of the Nagarahole Park and the tribal hamlets. With no secure borders, wild elephants easily stray into human habitats by merely crossing the road. According to tribals, jumbos rule the roost here for several months in a year. The menace is more during the jackfruit season.

Residents here have to be on guard, always. They think twice before venturing out to answer the call of nature in the night. They have to be all eyes and ears; watch and hear for the movement of wild elephants before stepping out even into their backyards. The elephant herds go on a rampage once they enter the human habitat. They raid farmlands, trample banana plants, swallow cucumber and other vegetables grown in the backyard, and barge into cattle sheds too. Residents are compelled to witness this destruction, fearfully, from inside their ramshackle houses.

Livelihood at stake

The tribals, once upon a time, used to reap a rich harvest of paddy on the forest land. They grew ragi, jowar and vegetables abundantly. But, with the jumbos creating havoc, they have stopped their agricultural activities in the last decade. The fertile farmland is now covered with weeds and grass which are also not spared by invading elephants. The tribals now work as coolies in the neighbouring coffee plantations to eke out a livelihood. 

In the last two years, two tribals have lost their lives in the jumbo attack. Recently, a resident of Gonigadde hamlet was grievously injured by the pachyderms. Gonigadde residents have lost their houses and are living in bamboo thickets or on trees. Children fear going to school while elders dread going to the nearby town to purchase items of daily necessity. It’s a Herculean task to save their lives from the herd of wild elephants which appear suddenly on the road. Without any doubt, the jumbo menace has thrown the life of tribals out of gear.

Legal hurdles

All the hamlets here come under the limits of Project Tiger of Nagarahole National Park. Laws governing wildlife habitats come in the way of taking up development activities in the area. Because of this, the tribals are deprived of basic facilities such as water, house, hospital and toilets. They have realised they cannot sustain themselves if they continue to reside here. A majority of them are now seeking rehabilitation. 

Going nowhere

However, their relocation plan seems to have hit a dead-end with the authorities sitting pretty on their demands. They have been demanding the formation of new Forest Right Committees, recognising the rights of tribals under Forest Rights Act, 2006 and issue of title deeds to tribals and traditional forest dwellers. As many as 130 houses have been constructed at the Hebballa Rehabilitation Centre in Hunsur taluk. The residents have been demanding basic facilities at the Centre so that they can relocate there.

 Unfortunately, all these pleas have remained unattended to even as the hapless tribals continue to submit memorandums to each and every authority concerned, year after year.

“Without recognising our rights under the Forest Act, 2006, we cannot stake claim on our farmland and fix a value for it. We filed an application seeking to set this process in motion, way back in 2009. Ponnampet taluk social welfare officer has been designated as the secretary for a divisional-level committee for recognising forest rights. But, things stand still even after four years. Moreover, our applications are now missing,” said P S Puttaswamy, a tribal leader.

There has been an increase in the number of wild animals in the Nagarahole Park, making life miserable for people living on the fringes. Under the voluntary relocation and rehabilitation scheme funded by the Union government, the relocating tribal families get a house, farmland and cash. Locals find the offer attractive, but only if implemented. A proactive and humane approach by the authorities concerned could ameliorate the plight of tribals.

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