What ails Kaziranga? Episode – II

One-horned Rhinoceros at Agoratoli, Kaziranga
Let’s dwell on the life of the villagers in the vicinity of the park. The schools here are devoid of desks, benches, blackboards, drinking water, trained teachers and toilets. Nearly all of the school children have only read about Kaziranga, but have never been inside the park. Moreover, during medical emergencies, the ambulances are reluctant to come here since the roads would qualify only for dirt-track racing. Surprisingly, at this age of digitization, quite a few villages have yet to witness the light of electricity. For them, it is Kerosene lamps which serves to dispel the darkness of the night in their tiny huts. The agricultural produce is invariably at the mercy of either the floods or the wild animals which venture out. And, losing livestock’s to animals of prey is a common occurrence. Furthermore, crop damages due to animal depredation attract a Government compensation @ 1/10th the market price. And, that for livestock loss is even less @ of 1/5th the market price. And on the top of it, even this pittance of a compensation arrives only after a year. As a consequence, these people have no other means but to search for daily wage labor to sustain their families.
Looking for a respite from the miseries of their daily existence, the local youths here are always on a lookout for a steady income source. And this is where one can either deviate to an easy source of earning or else decide to slog it out. The simple way off-course is to fall prey to the machinations of the poacher-network. But the ones who decide to earn a respectable living, hopes and lobbies for a job in the Forest Department. For them, the post of a Forest Guard is their passport to ensure a better future for their family. And, when the opportunity arises, they jump on to start their career as a casual employee. Toiling tirelessly day in and day out, ill-equipped and underpaid, their only dream is to be lucky enough to land with a permanent job. A job which pays relatively well to feed and educate their children and ensure a pension after retirement.
Alas, the life of these foot-soldiers in the dense forests of Kaziranga is nothing more than glorified bonded labors. It is a constant balancing act between life and death, their survival at the mercy of the very animals they protect. Danger lurks in every corner in the form of the poachers and the animals. Constantly living a life on the edge can unnerve even the bravest. Slowly, yet inevitably, these youths graduate into middle age without a change in their lives. Their dream lies in tatters when their names don’t figure in the newt list of permanent employees. Some of these would have toiled for more than two decades, hoping against hope. They had mortgaged the prime of their life in the hope of securing their future. In their untiring effort to protect the wildlife and the habitat, they had lost out on alternate skill-sets to survive in this world.
But then, these issues do not find merit in the discussions and seminars of the glorified beggars. Deliberating on these sacrifices is not an agenda in their seminars and workshops. The simple act of empowering the local community to protect the rhino is an act of sacrilege for them. Because they are smart enough to understand know that empowerment of locals would lead to their own untimely demise.

Bhaskar J Barua

Wildlife Photographer and Conservationist, Agoratoli Resort
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