Young couple in Assam turns saviour for farmers

Guided by an 86-year-old man, young couple in Assam turns saviour for farmers to check conflict with wild elephants

According to data provided by Assam forest department, 359 people died in 1,165 human-elephant conflicts between 2015 and 2019

Dulu Bora, his wife Meghna Mayur Hazarika and Pradip Bhuyan sowing paddy at Chapanala in Nagaon district. Credit: DH

Wild elephants were in their minds when Dulu Bora and Meghna Mayur Hazarika got married in 2018.

"We even did have time to plan our honeymoon. Because the sight of wild elephants destroying the golden paddy fields and plight of our farmers was so painful for both of us," Dulu, a resident of Chapanala in Nagaon district said on Monday.

"In fact, we have spent nights in the last three months in tongi ghor (the treehouses constructed by farmers to chase wild elephants at night) in the middle of the paddy fields, along with a few farmers," he said. 

Born and brought up in central Assam's Nagaon district, one of the major human-elephant conflict zones, the young couple fought against many odds to convince villagers that only way to check conflict with the wild jumbos and to save their crops was to provide food and water on the corridors used by elephants before they enter the paddy fields. 

The result so far has been unbelievable: farmers in Chapanala and adjoining villages joined hands and cultivated paddy and other grasses (food for elephants) in 600 bighas of their land for the elephants, which comes down from the adjoining Karbi Anglong hills during the harvesting season. The jumbos not only destroy their crops but also intrude into their villages resulting deaths of at least 10 to 12 people and 6 to 7 elephants almost every year. 

Guided and assisted by Pradip Bhuyan, an 86-year-old social activist based in Guwahati, the couple named their group as Hati Bondhu (friends of the jumbos) and held meetings in at least 14 villages in 2018 itself.

"Initially, the farmers were reluctant and feared that we will take over their land. But they got convinced after we gave them in writing that we will not take their land. In 2018, the farmers at Chapanala and adjoining areas cultivated paddy and other food items in 200 bighas of land. It was a big success as it acted as a barrier for the elephants to enter their main crops and the human habitation. We spent the nights in the tongi ghor to make sure that elephants did not cross the barriers. Interestingly, the jumbos did not get into the villages as they got food as soon as they got down of the hills," Bora, now 38 told DH.

"Bhuyan sir (Pradip Bhuyan) and Assam forest department helped us with guidance and technical help," he said.

The positive outcome in 2018 and 2019 in villages between Sikoni and Kothiatoli in Nagaon district encouraged farmers in Ronghang Hathikhuli area in Karbi Anglong to hand over 600 bighas of land this year to prevent conflicts with the wild elephants.

"As people did not have work during the lockdown, they gave more time to cultivate food for the elephants. They also helped us dig water bodies for the jumbos. This has benefitted not less than 500 villages and protected crops of 40,000 bighas this year. It gives us satisfaction today that not a single person or elephant have died this year so far due to the conflicts," Bora said. The couple has made their names for rescuing wild animals including snakes the past few years. 

Severity of the problem: 

According to data provided by Assam forest department, 359 people died in 1,165 human-elephant conflicts between 2015 and 2019. More than 50 elephants are killed in such conflicts, mostly by electrocution and poisoning in the state every year. It said the wild elephants destroyed properties belonging to 12,950 families during the same period. The situation was more alarming in Nagaon, Sonitpur, Golaghat, Karbi Anglong, Tinsukia and Goalpara districts. 

"Our survey found that 40,000 bighas of paddy is affected due to the conflicts with the wild elephants in Nagaon district alone. But if this successful model is emulated, we are quite confident that 90% of such human-elephant conflicts can be checked," said Bora.