March 2: “He’s two months old. He’s hungry. And scared. He’s wondering when his mother is coming back…”
A shot rings out.
“Maybe, she isn’t?”
This is a tiny video clip produced on behalf of Aircel, as part of their Save Our Tigers Initiative. And we have the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Baichung Bhutia and the ever vigilant Kiran Bedi identifying themselves with the cause.
There are only 1,411 tigers left in the wilds of India. So say the statistics. They shouldn’t be allowed to die for sure. And Dhoni & Co point the index finger in the direction of the viewers and declare, “I won’t let it happen,” meaning that they shall not let the glorious beasts fade away.
Wanting to save the tiger—or even wanting to see one in the wild—has almost become a fashion statement, something the rich and the famous, and bold and the beautiful, mouth routinely.
Something that has become an integral part of cocktail circuit chatter.
Hollow, vacuous, pretentious, inane, superficial and almost hypocritical, these feeble and almost laughable gestures made by celebrities, at the behest of some corporate house that is looking for a ‘worthy’ cause to espouse….
And such other pompous Page 3 denizens that inhabit the dark and clammy insides of their own shallow worlds, to get into which, you would perhaps have to risk being frisked, physically and even intellectually.
It simply doesn’t cut much ice in reality, or in the case of the tiger, not much raw meat!
Like how it was a fashion of sorts during the time of the British—to aim a gun at a growling tiger cosseted by men on elephant back—-a ‘sport’ to enhance the sense of the man in them and bag the big cat, either to eventually display it’s stuffed head close to the fire place or simply to impress the beau close by, the urban rich have now found it almost a fashion to pursue the thought of wanting to save the tiger from extinction to the accompaniment of the sounds of whisky glasses clinking!
In drawing rooms across the big cities of this country, in the seminar halls of our land, in the wildlife conferences around the nation and in board rooms and perhaps even rest rooms, where they eventually find themselves after a few solid rounds of “the good stuff”!
Reality is something that stares us menacingly in the face so much like the tiger itself, one which has been aroused from its post-meal siesta somewhere in the thickets of Nagarahole or Ranathambore or wherever else tigers may exist.
Reality is forest watchers and guards, impoverished and uncared for, barefooted and barren without a proper meal in their stomachs, living in sub-human conditions, almost all of them picked from the hinterlands of rural India, who don’t normally have even basic education, and who don’t have the wherewithal to stand up in unison and ask for a better deal; men whose services haven’t even been regularised by shameful governments for years and years, reeking of nothing but criminal hypocrisy and blatant irresponsibility.
Reality is that the governments that make a song and dance about the need to save the tigers from going the way of the dodo are the same governments that declare that there are not enough funds in the exchequer to make the jobs of the foot soldiers, the die-hards, the men on the battle front, the forest watchers and the guards, who risk their life and limb in the depths of the jungles day in and day out, come rain or shine, in their call of duty, permanent.
Reality is even the salaries of these hapless watchers and guards, as meagre as an ant’s droppings anyway, some two thousand and odd rupees, in today’s age and time when life and its inflationary fiscal realities is not easy to go through even in the best of times, are not paid on a monthly basis. They get to see some money after much begging and haranguing once in three months and in certain wild life divisions, once in six months. Until then, they have to continue saving the tiger!
Is it so impossible to have a certain fund allocated in the national budget to ensure that the services of these men, so vital to the cause of saving our forests and the wild life within, are regularized? So that they and their families can lead a more secure and meaningful life and also contribute harder to the cause of conservation. Especially when multiple crores of rupees are squandered away frivolously by governments for some or the other dubious cause every year.
Reality is this is a country where a vast majority of these men are shockingly known as PCP (Petty cash payment) watchers, which simply means that these are men who are paid a certain remuneration from the petty cash made available to the range forest officer of the wild life range concerned and whose services are not legally sanctified by the forest department. Just imagine their morale, their sense of worth, their commitment and their drive to work every day in such circumstances. But yet, most soldier on.
They are ‘freelancers’ of sorts who are given a tattered khaki uniform to wear and a laughably ancient double barrel gun to hold in their miserably weak hands. And they have to save the tiger, no less, mind you!
If this is not a shame, what else is?
If this is not a joke, I haven’t heard anything funnier.
How simply macabre is the thought process of the powers that be?
Reality is these very same governments, be it in Karnataka or anywhere else in the country that have senior officers belonging to the hallowed Indian Forest Service, trained and acclimatised at forestry colleges to conserve and preserve not just the tiger but also the rabbit, in a manner of speaking, whose olive-green Maruti gypsies with smart canvas tops, gleaming in the sun, are invariably found parked in the driveways of their posh offices; while battered, rattling, old junks that resemble jeeps that neither have proper brakes nor much diesel in their tanks are handed over to range forest officers in charge of wild life sanctuaries and national parks, simply do not do anything realistic or practical in their quest to save and conserve wild life.
These are the men who are in charge of leading a cohesive team in saving the tiger, our national animal, the one predator that is at the apex of the food chain; the one animal whose continued existence will mean good for the environment at large and also India’s image internationally as a conservation conscious nation, blessed with so much flora and fauna!
All they can do is to enlist a celebrity, a famous cricketer like Anil Kumble in the case of the Karnataka government for example, give him a fancy designation in some wildlife related department, and sit back and see wildlife dwindle.
How on earth, do you expect a completely honourable man like Anil Kumble or anybody else for that matter to do anything worthwhile without the active, sincere and committed support of the governmental machinery? With the system itself being allowed to rot and putrefy like a wild carcass in the jungle?
Where man-animal conflicts rage from time to time; where compensations for crop damage by elephants and boars are paid almost after the already poverty stricken farmer has reached a dead end at the tunnel of frustration, anger and impotent helplessness.
And the amount doled out as compensation is so minuscule that it may not mean anything at all eventually. Where the scenario is so hostile that the average villager couldn’t care less if a tiger got poached, in most cases abetting it himself, or an elephant got electrocuted.
And, as for those who come on national television saying that they will not allow the tiger to die, may they be reminded that saving the tiger is not about empty lines for prime time television fun, but grim, dire, apocalyptic action on the field, full of fire and brim stone and nothing less.
And this only governments can do. Overhauling the existing state of affairs and infusing a certain drive into this whole process of conservation.
And we haven’t even discussed China and its hunger for tiger penises and claws as yet. And India’s own serious diplomatic manoeuvres at the international level to drum up support to quell the madness afflicting the Chinese.
After some thousand odd words, we are still on the subject of our forest watchers and guards being paid their rightful salaries and provided shoes for their feet and a semblance of dignity to their existence!
Save the tiger, we must. Isn’t it?