SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: “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?
Also read: Why our Nagarahole scores over Ranthambore
In Nagarahole, tigers are like city buses….
‘Nagalinga raised his arm. Behind was a charging elephant cow’
Name of tiger. Age. Name of father of tiger. Age.
seems chinese have a liking for penis of dogs, ox, seal, snake, tiger etc.
do they eat human penis too? we can send pataudi and salman.
a larger picture says that our tigers are not local. means if someone form somewhere wants claws, skin or penis a bullet will be fired here.
security is lowered for easy access.
so much for globalization so much for cut throat capitalism.
blogs are like begging these people to stop capitalism. would they listen?
how would they? they have to open up and make profits.
I completely agree that the guards and foresters who work in our various forest departments should be given better work conditions. So also should their senior officers, the RFO’s and DFO’s. The one refrain I hear every time from the ground staff in all these wildlife sanctuaries is to be made permanent. It is sad indeed that they have to risk their lives every day on a daily wage basis. The forest department (I don’t really know about the situation in North India but this is true of the four southern states, would be happy if someone could fill in the info) need not do something extraordinary. It just needs to follow the labour laws like it has to.
I think it is a good thing that Dhoni, Kiran Bedi and Co. are trying awareness and will be of some help too. While on one hand there might not be that much of an impact on problems like encroachment in forest areas etc. It will certainly help manage the tiger trade on the demand side. If they can make owning or using parts of endangered animals uncool, people will stop buying and ergo the poachers will have to stop killing. Now, it also might help make it uncool to kill these animals so that we don’t have a Salman Khan now and a Pataudi then going around shooting black bucks for fun.
This is a democracy and for change in status quo the impetus has to come from the people. Page 3, hollow or not, has great influence over us as a society and is capable of giving an issue the airtime it wouldn’t have otherwise got. If this is an issue sufficiently important in peoples minds, it will be part of election manifestos soon. I’m not saying that that alone will mean more tigers but it will definitely increase the political presence of the greens.
nicely written ground realities. agree 100%.
Brilliant, well-researched article.
I wonder if the chattering classes would be falling over each other proclaiming their support to the tiger, if.
If all tigers liked human flesh, particularly the elite ones.
Adding to sunnad,
The wages of a PCP watcher is Rs 102 per day, paid 120 days late…
There is another cadre of these temporary watchers called MR or Muster role watchers..
Who by the grace of some thoroughbred legal luminary at supreme court of india were awarded this position because they joined service on some day post April of 1984, and 1800+ of them are still hoping that government will give them a permanent post..
Don’t forget that permanent post that MR watchers are asking is not the ones which has a 6th pay commission salary and perquisites, but its just a permanent watchers post with 6000 Rs salary and another 1500 Rs worth of benefits.
Sum total of all the watchers wage and their permanent status will cost the government around 30 crore rupees. A sum which is equal to the annual maintainance expenditure of RajBhavan at Bangalore.
The Forest department does not even acknowledge the death of a PCP or a MR watcher and he is neither eligible to a ex-gratia amount nor a family pension.
I wonder how those Olive green gypsy kind of officers being fully aware of the problem have their Chivas regal and various labels on the face of these PCP watchers whose monthly salary is equal to 100 ml of their drink.
Its a state sponsored slavery programme and nothing more.
Check this out : http://stateofindianwildlife.blogspot.com/
Does this also say something about there not being enough influential people to lobby for these foot soldiers in the upper echelons of the government?
Whats the big deal if the tiger dies out? In countries like India only animals which are of use to humans – for food, as pets, as beasts of burden, scavengers etc. have the best chances of survival. We will get to real wildlife conservation only after we tackle our basic problems of health, sanitation, food, population et. al.
>>seems chinese have a liking for penis of dogs, ox, seal, snake, tiger etc.
do they eat human penis too? we can send pataudi and salman.>>
The chinese will reject the delivery quoting “goods damaged in transit and the product has been reduced to half its size” :)
How can animals be more important than humans?
That is perverse.
Nice write-up Sunaad! Thanks.
Apart from the Chinese, Viet and other south-east Asians our own folk/tribal medicine of India too uses elements of tiger in the formulations. Infact ‘Indian materia medica’ mentions the usage of tiger’s claws, fat, teeth etc in the treatment for leprosy, rheumatism, dog bites amongst other things. This deals with Ayurvedic, Unani and home remedies.
Hopefully with stringent measures and monitoring, the usage of tiger’s parts in Ayurveda/Unani would have come down in India. However that still leaves out a vast folk/tribal usage in medicine. Govt., NGOs and other social/religious bodies really need to spread the awareness amongst those sections of the society.
When my brother was a kid, he couldnt sleep properly and used to have nightmares. My grandfather who had a lot of shikari huchchu in his day, procured some boiled tiger fat – huli thuppa. When they applied it on my brother’s forehead all his problems went away – or so they said. Of course no one believes in this stuff now.
Why cant stem cell research be applied to growing the needed tiger body parts as it is being done in the case of humans…just a thought..
May be the chinku’s who are in forefront of tiger consumption, should invest some money on this and make it possible.
The easiest response to the many ills plaguing this country is cynicism, and my friend Sunaad radiates this sentiment with his characteristic flourish. I will not joust with my friend on the many disturbing facets of the forest department that he has so eloquently brought to the fore in this piece. As a genuine wildlife enthusiast, dreamily meandering through the forest paths in his Bolero, :-) he probably knows this better than most of us city slickers… But the writer may be flawed in unceremoniously trashing these high profile corporate campaigns. Undoubtedly, the Aircell campaign has underscored the crisis in tiger conservation and punched the 1411 number in the national psyche. After spending hundreds and hundreds of crores in the 37 long years of its existence, how successful has Project Tiger been in saving our disappearing tigers or even building public awareness?… Stats show that the Project was a huge success in the early days. But honestly, I don’t know…! The media houses that have made a pile through the Aircell campaign should now urge the telecom company to outline a full blown strategy on how it intends to take its campaign from the television screens to the jungles, from rhetoric to reality. Now that would be an interesting story for all of us to read….
Brilliant write up. This is what I was looking for. Critique of these superficial advertisements. Save tiger advertisement by Aircel, at the most can get some new mobile phone customers for Aircel.. nothing beyond that..
thanks for giving space to an opinion so different from the modern institutions.
Unless work is done on the ground, these ads won’t serve any purpose!