Seven members of the Jenu Kuruba tribe from Nagarahole forest demonstrated at a literature event in Bengaluru on Sunday to draw attention to the plight of indigenous communities. At 4.15 pm, during an awards session at Green Literature Festival (GLF) at Bangalore International Centre in Domlur, they stood up with placards, alleging that the forest department and leading wildlife conservation NGOs were responsible for evicting them from the forests.
They chose this literature festival as the protest site because the event had the World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF-India) as one of its partners.
“WWF-India was responsible for forcing out tribals from their homes in national parks like Kaziranga in Assam. So members of the Jenu Kuruba tribe are protesting against WWF-India in solidarity,” claimed Sanjana, one of the four volunteers of Fridays for Future (FFF), Karnataka, who brought them to the venue.
A 2017 investigation by BBC said the rangers of the Kaziranga National Park had been given the powers to shoot suspected poachers.
WWF, according to the report, funds, trains and equips park guards. Survival International, a human rights organisation, has questioned on its website this mode of conservation “resulting in gross human rights abuses”. WWF has responded to the BBC report that they do not support any procedure that advocates ‘shoot on sight policy’.
Closer home, a joint fact-finding report led by FFF Karnataka, published in May 2022, states that the tribal people living in the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve did not relocate voluntarily but were forcibly evicted between 1980 and 2004.
The evictions were carried out by the forest department but a leading wildlife NGO supported them, claiming that the tribals were living in constant fear of wildlife, the report states. “About 35 of the 2,000 families now remain inside the forest,” Sanjana points out.
J K Timma, one of the protestors at the venue, claimed, “It has been 12 years since we were allowed to enter the forest to worship our gods.” Benedict Paramanand, organiser of GLF, wasn’t aware of “the Jenu Kuruba tribe’s issues with WWF” until they showed up at the event. “We offered them a space to voice out their problems but they refused. We can provide them a platform again at the next edition of GLF if they would like,” he says. A WWF-India spokesperson said they are not aware of the situation in Nagarahole as they haven’t worked in the region. They weren’t available for comment on the Kaziranga-related allegations.