“The tiger cannot be preserved in isolation. It is at the apex of a large and complex biotope. Its habitat, threatened by human intrusion, commercial forestry and cattle grazing, must first be made inviolate.”—–Mrs Indira Gandhi
Project Tiger, launched in 1973-74 by the Government of India under the leadership of the then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi has resettled many villages and destroyed many lives of tribal people since its inception. There are many places in India still that have been told to move out of ‘core zone’ of the sanctuary, so as the tiger can live undisturbed life. On a recent visit to Shegoan, which is in Buldhana district of Maharashtra, I visited a village called Ambabarva, which comes under “AAKOT WILDLIFE SANCTUARY”. There are many ways to describe Ambabarva village. Firstly it is situated at the border of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh in the Buldhana district. Secondly the inhabitants of this village are tribal’s. Thirdly it is tiger reserved area. Though there is no electricity but within two meters beside forest office stood a long antenna connected to a gadget inside the room, which was one and only the wireless means of communication. The communication between forest officials of Vashadi and Ambabarva is done through this means of wireless system. The people live in small groups, ranging from a band of hundred to a few hundred individuals, mostly nomadic in habit, though a few lead a settled life of agriculturists. As happens with several Indian wildlife reserves, this village is located inside its boundaries. Ambabarva was declared part of Project Tiger, the more stringent Indian government effort to save that VVIP animal. When Ambabarva joined Project Tiger, the residents of this village were told they would have to move out of the core zone of the forest so as to leave the VVIP tigers, an area where they would be undisturbed.
The clearest sign of deprivation to be found in Ambabarva is in the empty, defeated eyes of tribal’s like Motilal Awaskar sitting with his younger son. He no longer lives here. It’s the day before Holi. He has returned home to visit his wife and two children after being separated by working at Shegoan. He will leave again in two days. His elder son studies in ashram at Shegoan while the younger one didn’t get admission for not possessing birth certificate. When Motilal was asked for his son’s birth certificate he told he didn’t know what birth certificate is. After knowing that we were from Mumbai, Motilal said he once came to Mumbai and also worked as a laborer on the construction site. He says I wonder what my life would have been if I had not left this place. My family would have died. There is no employment here. When asked him about the help given by forest department he says they don’t help us, on the contrary they ask us for the help. ‘What kind of help they ask for?’ Whenever there is fire in the forest the officials call us to douse it. The forest department pays us for dousing. Everyone is talking tiger tiger tiger but no one talks about us and the condition of this Ambabarva village. Government says it will give money if we leave the village. It’s almost ten to fifteen years passed; we heard nothing after that proposal. After Ambabarva became part of Tiger reserves the development is not taking place though even before there was no development. When I leave this place for employment the forest department scares me. The forest official says that if you go somewhere else you won’t get anything from government. Anyhow what the hell government has given us? Today we are nowhere. I am just waiting for the money so that I can live this place and settle somewhere else. After scrutinizing the condition of Motilal Awaskar it can be said that the economic life of tribal people of Ambabarva can be described as being at the level of subsistence. This means that they struggle hard to satisfy their basic needs. Most of them are engage in their traditional occupations have a hand to mouth existence where as if you recall the achievement of Project Tiger it says the project has generated considerable wages for the benefit of fringe dwelling communities, who are deployed as local work force for protection.
What old man said was that in Ambabarva, the production of milk is very low. He explained the grass here are dry and not green. We just leave our cattle in the jungle for grazing and don’t even quench their thirst due to the inconvenience of water in our village. Only in rainy season the production of milk gets high due to the greenery of grass and water availability. “Then how the crops survive?” “ They don’t survive for long. The yield is low and is thus regarded as uneconomic. We are barely able to satisfy our basic needs. Even surplus is very little. If at all there is any surplus, we exchange it at weekly or fortnightly markets in exchange of money.” “I heard every month cattle die here. Why?” “Jungly animals kill most of our Cattle in the night while we are at sleep.” “Why is there no way to protect the cattle’s?” “No, in the night while we are sleeping the animals come and eat our cows and buffalo” “Aren’t forest official deployed here?” “They are only deployed in jungle to save tiger not our cattle.” “ But the government pays you money if your cattle’s are killed” “Yes it is true” “How its work. I mean how the prices are fixed?” “It depends on cattle. If cows are killed we get six thousand rupees. For small cattle, small amount of money and for large one, large amount of money.” “How many animals have you lost”? “Till date I have lost four cows Shaheb. On one hand the government is saving the jungly animals and on the other hand, instead of saving our cattle’s they compensate. If there is tiger reserved area then why not there should be cattle reserved area too. Our cattle’s are dying day by day. Their are forest official who go in the jungle to keep an eye on poacher but there is no one who can guard our cattle from jungly animals in night. The life of cattle in Ambabarva is very worst. First of all they don’t get proper and healthy fodder and water. Jungly animals often kill them during grazing in jungle. Day by day the numbers of cattle’s in this village is diminishing. No one pays attention to this shattered lives of animals here. And what are we going to do with the compensation? According to another achievement of Project tiger it says while conserving the flagship species, the project has saved other species of plants and animals from extinction. This is how killing other species saves the species. Nothing is available here, no electricity, no hospital facilities, and no proper school. I feel as if I am living in the hell. If any person gets ill, we have to carry the patients through the jungle to near by hospital, which is very far away in Tunki. Many have lost their life in a way to hospital. The inhabitants of Ambabarva always find difficult to come home in night. They have to pass through jungle with no proper road and light. Government has a project to save tiger but has nothing to provide electricity, road and health facilities, to save our cattle. It’s because of these cattle that India is surviving. It because of cattle that we get milk, the agriculture is done with their help and what does tiger give, a death. According to Wild life protection society of India Tigers and leopards kill 400-500 cattle annually and frequently injure or kill people. Once I was watching a show on CNN IBN “Think India dialogue” in which Gujrat’s Chief minister(Then) Narendra Modi was talking about his vision for India. He says Planning commission has allocated 200 crores for Tiger and nothing for lions. Are these tigers secular and lions communal? Which I think is most wit question ever asked. Here even my question to government is same. Are these tiger secular and the people of Ambabarva and cattle communal? It is difficult to fathom why most of the time when government of India comes up with new project-for dams, irrigation, mines, tiger reserves it’s the tribal people who suffers most. Homeland of millions of India’s tribal people have been evicted and displaced. It has now become the routine of government that whenever something is at the diminishing point, they will wake up and foolishly try to save it by destroying many lives of tribal people. Here in Ambabarva the government and forest department has nothing to do with tribes but tiger reserves. On one side the government show them falsy dream, other side forest department rules on them. The tribal’s here has been left deliberately isolated and marginalized by Indian government.
It was the day before Holi. The biggest celebration for the tribes of Ambabarva. The huts were anointed by the dung. The women’s were clad in their traditional costumes and preparing savai. The colors were made by the flowers. The walls of huts were decorated by the rangoli. The men were gathering woods to make pyramid of it. The Mahoa drinks were made. The houses were visited by the relatives mostly coming from Madhya Pradesh as most of the brides belong there. There were jalebis and batasha distributed among themselves. The whole villagers were engage in their own chaos. Savitri too was busy in preparation but getting her opinion on Ambabarva was important to know more about it. She was member of Adivasi Mahila Sangathan (AMS) and also the Sarpanch of this village. Being Sarpanch of this village, I always want to see development here. However the condition is little better than before. Last year, which means in 2012 at the time of Ganesh Chaturti, the forest department came up with the offer of Solar panel. Anyone who wants to buy can buy it at the price of 750 rupees. Not everyone can afford it but few have. This Solar panel was first kind of help given by forest department. Solar panel is nothing but a technology where the solar plates rectangular in shape are installed on the roof, which is connected to a large box, which stores energy. This box has pinholes to connect wires. “How much power does it stores and what all can be run on it?” The power is very low and only a small tube light can be run on it. We mostly use it in our kitchen so that we can cook food properly. “And what are the others facilities you have been provided?” When the forest catches fire the forest official ask us for the help to douse it. We are paid for it. This is the second kind of help from the forest department but the forest hardly catches fire whereas Government has done nothing for us. What would they do for the people whom they have already isolated and marginalized? “But I have heard you get food grains from the government at low cost. Could you explain how it works? The Indian government has a program under which people below the poverty line (BPL) can buy rice a month at Rs 3/kg. Almost all the houses in Ambabarva qualify for this but still there are few people who cannot even afford to buy at 3 Rs. Savitri talked about painful realities that countless Ambabarva’s women have to endure such as delivery problem, carry water from the mountain, but rarely confront. She spoke about growing up as a girl. She spoke about how she was told repeatedly that she was wasting her time by raising her voice, nothing will happen here. She spoke about the pure fear she felt when she walked alone at night from Vashadi market to village through life taking jungle. But there are more woes. There’s no piped water in this village. There are just two handpumps a little far provided in the village. There are no schools, no health clinic, and no transport. If villagers here need to travel to Vashadi for the bazaar, lets say, they must walk about eighteen kilometer from Ambabarva. Ambabarva tribes have high illiteracy. There are no schools in the areas inhabited by them. It is, therefore, found difficult to educate them. Many have sent their child to Ashram at Shegoan for schooling like Motilal Awaskar. Though Ambabarva has one school in its vicinity but its remains close forever. Teachers don’t come here and why would they if they get good salary in the town. People like us will never understand the situation through which the tribal’s of Ambabarva are passing from. To us it seems like Project Tiger has achieved success by simply living in a metro cities, no doubt it has but we fail to understand the reality behind it. The pure truth of people who are resettle through this project and toil so much to live a normal life. I can’t believe all this is happening in India after completing sixty-six years of independence. Tribal people are deprived of freedom. Freedom to live better and prosperous life. There are many areas like Ambabarva where the state has just given up, even when it comes to providing basic infrastructure facilities like roads, schools and rural clinic. The government officials need to change their mindset towards these Ambabarvas and must see them as a human like us, but there is a question always arise, how can we accept them?
What these people hope from their government is not just, that they will make policy and resettlement. They expect support in their daily struggles to build a life of dignity, respect, and justice and ultimately hope. According to Harsh Mander, a member of the National Advisory Council, tribal people desperately require effective amendments and implementation of the Forest Rights Act and Panchayat (Extension to scheduled Areas) Act, which restores their control over their lands, natural resources and governance system. Whenever a village comes under tiger reserves area, the basic facilities to that village are immediately stopped. The mindset is created that only animals live there, then why should we construct roads and schools in that vicinity. They forget that even people live in those tiger reserves areas too. If Indira Gandhi would have present today, she would have seen the pure truth of his mission Project Tiger.
The wood pyramid would be lit today. The dancing would go on whole night around the pyre. But we wont be present to witness all. I just hope when Ambabarva gets evicted and when the people are resettled somewhere, they are treated with dignity and respect. But what happens with resettlement is not a matter of investigative journalism to do so. Google all the displacement caused by major project, you will learn how they toil and live a shattered lives. Wishing them happy Holi there we were leaving the Village, which would someday fade, into the forest.
Written by: Krishna Shivkumar yadav
Photo courtesy: Sameer Gotare
Special Thanks: Ankush Marode