Impact: Video Gets Compensation to Victims of Human-Animal Conflict

India’s 28,000 wild elephants are cramped up in around 3% of its geographical area. A bare handful of areas have been declared protected areas known as elephant corridors. VV-PACS Community Correspondent Tanju Devi lives in Dumari, a small hamlet flanked by the forests in West Champaran, Bihar. This community has seen first hand the effects of the human-animal conflict. A herd of elephants rampaged the hamlet in December but no aid or assistance from the Forest Department to compensate the families. With this video, Tanju mobilised her people and helped them get compensation.   “Dumari, the small village where I live is barely two kilometres away from the Valmiki Tiger Reserve and not too far from that is the Indo-Nepal Border. The dense forests run by our village, merging into the neighbouring country and become the Chitwan National Park. This is an elephant corridor, one of India’s 88 ever-shrinking such tracts.   My people, depend on these forests for everything—firewood, food and a meagre income. Ours is a wretched existence, with few jobs, low agricultural yields and next to nothing support from the government. Even the MGNREGA scheme supposed to provide us with jobs fails to do so!   Our relationship with the forests has turned increasingly fragile in the last decade or so. With development projects in India and Nepal, the territory of the animals is shrinking. Hunger and loss of habitat is driving them wild, so we regularly have Tigers, Elephants and Blue Bulls rampaging through our fields, destroying the crops, or fatally injuring people. The Forest Department shows little interest in ensuring our safety when these attacks happen. When a herd of elephants trashed our village in December 2013, it took several altercations and a whole lot of persuasion to get the families compensation they had been promised by the state.”   It was a bitterly cold night, and people were preparing to turn in for the night when the news spread that elephants were moving towards the village.All the residents managed to escape, but many lost their homes & belongings in the subsequent rampage. BrijeshKhojwar, a small time farm-owner and labourer lost nearly all his possessions. Years of labour had helped him build a tiny thatched home for his family, and that too, was not spared.   The neighbouring village, Materia,was not so fortunate. In the dash scramble to get away, Janaki Devi, an aged villager was crushed by an elephant. “While we  understand that in this situation, it is not sensible to be angry with elephants or with the Blue Bulls who come and eat the onions from our farms. The truth is that the living space is getting increasingly cramped – in this limited space we all have to share, the food & water we all need for survival is getting stretched. We humans are responsible for reducing the areas where elephants naturally inhabit. A lot of people think that people like my community, who live near forests and depend on them, should not be allowed to do so.   That view is a narrow one. We pick firewood and othersmall forest produce and a majority of people do not stray beyond the boundaries made to keep us out of deep forest areas. What about the government that is chopping up forests right left and centre for things like coal? Is that not harmful? Does that not pose a threat to tigers and elephant habitat? But wait, I was telling you what happened that night in December…   The elephants were chased out eventually. A sole Forest Ranger had come to see what had happened. He saw the broken houses, the mangled body of the deceased woman and looked suitably sombre. People were angry and we started asking him why proper measures weren’t taken to stop this from happening. His response: ‘What can I do? Am I telling the elephants to come here?’   There are no quick answers or solutions to this situation; it will take years of work from all of us, together, to keep the animals in their natural habitats. But, what does aperson do when they have lost all their  belongings and/or narrowly escaped death? What does a community do when their already limited avenues of a livelihood are constantly in danger? They seek help from their government, and from their government’s representative on the ground.   A few of us knew that in this situation, those affected were eligible for compensation. I told Brijesh and the other villagers about this. They were certain that no such thing would happen. You see, Bihar is still corrupt; even today very little moves along without greasing a few palms or wheedling officials. It was time to start filming.   After I gathered all the evidence and interviews, a few of us made our way on cycles to the Range office in Manguraha village. The officer there told us that this request would have to be made at a District level and showed us how to fill out the paperwork.   We set out the next day to the District office 5 kilometres away. In my work as a Community Correspondent I find that many officials are unwilling to come on camera but do offer to help us. This officer was one of them. We had to work on him a little bit to get the papers signed off and for him to give a receipt of the application. He made me pretty angry and I let off a lot of steam on him.   In under a month, we got a phone call to say the money had been sanctioned. The next day, Brijesh, and the deceased woman’s family were handed over their compensation of INR 5,000 and INR 2 lakhs respectively.   I learnt early in life that keeping quiet is of no use. So wherever I go, I do my homework and research. When I get there, I speak openly and I am not scared because I am not doing anything wrong. People think that women in Bihar are meek (this interviewer included) but really, if women didn’t get out of their houses here, nothing would get done. With this story, I had the opportunity to set right one part of the complicated puzzle that is animal conservation and simultaneously giving rights to the people who live closest to them. There are more pieces to be fit together and for that I’ll have to make more videos.”   Read More: http://www.sanctuaryasia.com/magazines/conservation/5214-human-elephant-conflict-in-india.html   About the Partnership: The Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS) Programme and Video Volunteers have come together to create the Community Correspondents Network. The videos generated by the network will be able to highlight voices from the margins, providing skills to social communicators to provide advocacy tools to community based organizations.

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