Tigers and Tribals in National Parks of India

Who needs more conservation; Tiger or the Tribes of India? This question has raised a lot of eyebrows from human and animal activists worldwide.

Baiga Tribe in Tiger country
Baiga an indigenous tribe

The Government in trying to protect a highly endangered species might relocate some tribal villages to give Tiger his inviolate space. The tribes in question are the Baigas, a very vulnerable tribe found in the central forests of India. They are specifically found in the districts of Mandla and Balaghat which houses Kanha National Park. The Tigers and these Tribes of India have been staying here for centuries. Baigas practice shifting cultivation, which the government feels drives deforestation. But i think it is the development strategy of the nation based on destruction which leads to deforestation.

Tiger and Tribes of India
Tiger in Tiger country

During my recent visit to the area via Nagpur i saw expansion of National Highway 7 at the cost of cutting few thousand trees at one go. One can debate that roads and infrastructure are important for development, but not by destructing the natural heritage. It is this expansion of roads network, and small Tehsils like Baihar, Paraswada, Birsa which are accounting for more deforestation than the tribals.

Need vs Greed taking toll on Tigers and Tribes of India

It is the greed of mining which is destroying forests at a much faster rate than what Tribals can destroy over next 200 years, i.e. if they do. These tribals are still alienated from the modern civilization, hence their wants, and desires are negligible. Yes they are dependent on the forest for their livelihood, but that has been the case for centuries. If they were plundering forests then the forests would have disappeared by now. Thanks to efforts of Ekta parishad which organized a lot of walks, and demonstrations, the Forest Act 2006 came in favor of the Tribals. http://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/baiga-tribals-become-india-s-first-community-to-get-habitat-rights-52452.

Through this act, the tribals were entitled to be dependent on the forest for a living. Nobody could buy or sell their land. The land of a tribal could be bought and sold to a tribal only. Somehow this boon became their bane too. Now, when in need they cannot sell their land to anyone but a tribal. And the tribals do not have funds enough to buy the land. So what does the Baiga do? This law now needs a look in.

Kanha National Park
Kanha National Park

The actual loss of forests is due to the development and GDP of the country, and not by Baiga’s dependence on it. Yes, there might be some elements among the tribals who might be involved in poaching of some animals, but aren’t such elements also found in the upper crust in the urbanized world? Who are these people who lure these simple tribals into poaching? They are outsiders who for some paltry amount get these Tribals to poach. Will the poaching stop if Tribals are evicted from their homes? No, not at all. Poaching will only stop the day the demand of the animal parts stops. Surely that does not seem to be a possibility in the near future.

Does this problem have a solution?

With just over 2000 Tigers in India, and about 1.5 lakh Baigas, it is important that Tiger and Tribes are conserved in the national parks. Fact of the matter is that the 100 Tigers in Kanha cannot be relocated, period, but tribes can be shifted as per the government.

But an adhoc shifting is not a solution. One must do it scientifically, strategically, with their sanctions and without sufferance. Not easy to do, but possible for sure. Also, if a master plan is made to shift only some crucial villages and not all then it is fine. One must remember that Baigas have been the biggest conservators of the forest for centuries. Making a forest bereft of them could actually put the forest at risk, and this the administration and forest department realizes well.

On one hand it is absolutely imperative that the Tiger is conserved, but not at the cost of the Tribals, not at all.

So what is a solution to this?  What do you say?

I can only pray that good sense prevails and everyone’s survival and rights are  kept in mind before deciding on anything that can impact nature. For me Tiger and Tribes are both integral to each other. None can be sent to another planet to survive, they must co-exist.

Best Wishes to the Tigers and the Tribes of India.

Sharad Vats