Disclaimer: I am not an expert on the topics discussed in this blog post. I am merely putting my own thoughts out there based on articles I have read, discussions I have had with Indian people and my own experience during my time in India.
There are two main Indian news stories circulating at the moment, both of which are thought provoking. One is on the death (or murder) of a tigress named Avni and the other is on the completion of a £330 million statue in Gujurat. Travelling India, in fact being within the states, whilst these stories emerge has meant we really connect with the local people and have been able to find out what they also think. For me, both news stories epitomise this country and the way in which it is run; greed, selfishness, hypocrisy, carelessness are all words that spring to mind. This has been a constant theme over the past 2 months in which we have been in this country. India’s government fails this country in so many ways. A country that is actually beautiful, with stunning wildlife and friendly people, but is neglected by those in power.
We first heard about Avni back in Udaipur from Ute at Princess Trails, over a cup of chai. She told us that a tigress had been on the run for a couple of months after being sentenced to captivity for killing a number of people. We didn’t learn the full extent but were told, correctly, that the National Board of Wildlife is to tranquillise her and move her to a zoo – not kill her. This apparently is the norm for a tiger that has killed too many people in the wild.
Then Avni came into discussion again when staying at Desert Coursers in the Little Rann of Kutch. Brad, Dhanraj (the owner), his guest Anuradha and myself were talking about wildlife conservation in India. All of us shared a passion for nature and a love for India’s nature in particular. We told them about when we came face to face with the tigers in Ranthambore and how blessed we felt to see these beautiful creatures in the wild. We were happy that conservation efforts seemed to be working within India. Anuradha then spoke of this tigress in Maharashtra that was being hunted for killing humans. We of course said we had heard about this and although weren’t completely pleased about it, were happy they didn’t plan to kill her. But this is where we were mistaken. Anuradha spoke of how this tigress, although has killed many people, also has a territory on land that is desired by the government for industrial purposes. She [Anuradha] spoke to us about how no one had heard about the hunt for over 2 weeks which she suspected meant they had already found the tiger and killed her. Since, if they had found her and tranquillised her, there would be no need to keep such secrecy. We also learned about Avni’s two 11 month old cubs and her mate that shared the territory and would also be rid of. Of course now I know that Anuradha was absolutely correct! They killed Avni (illegally) under the pretence she is is a ‘man-eater’ and are now setting up a situation that allows other tigers in the area to be killed too.
By killing this young, prime-of-life mother tigress you are taking away not 1, but 3 tigers! Not to mention the future cubs she may have successfully raised in the wild. This is a species that has been fighting extinction for decades. A species that is hunted for fur, trophy, medicine. A species that only has a couple of safe homes left in the world and India is supposed to be one of them. How can such an illegal act be allowed to happen? It has happened because the hunters (specifically selected for this job) know the government and the wildlife boards ultimately don’t care. They want the land and the tiger is in the way, removing the tiger was necessary and they just don’t care enough whether it is alive or dead. If they did the fear of persecution would have stopped the hunters from murdering Avni without even attempting to humanely capture her first. (The bullet that killed her was in her side, not front-facing as it would be for self defence). If you kill a tiger you don’t need much awareness to know you will be talked about on the media. Therefore you must not be worried about the backlash.
The people are calling for the Supreme Court to look into this killing in the public interest, in the hope some truth will come of it. So many rules were clearly violated during this hunt that the men responsible should be punished. No attempt to first tranquillise the tigress was made, there was no official vet with them at the time and it was made during the night, when the guidelines strictly state hunts should take place during daylight hours. Now, since the atrocity has happened, Shafhat Ali (the hunter) refuses to comply with requests to facilitate the post mortem! The bullet found does not match the bullet apparently used, it is in fact a bullet from a gun not permitted for this hunt that was used – ANOTHER rule broken. Now the gun actually used has been taken from the state so it cannot be submitted. Why? They are attempting to cover up a clear violation of the law. For so many rules to be broken this is a man who wanted to kill the tiger, who never intended to simply capture her. It has since come to light that some of the evidence used to convict Avni of the ‘man-eater’ title was false. Camera trap images clearly outdated and therefore not reliable were used in the case against her. The whole thing from start to finish is a shambles. From the so-called ‘conservationists’ that allowed the hunt to start in the first place, to the murderer Shafat Ali and the cover up since.
Did you know in India a man can receive 14 years in prison for killing a cow? That’s the same sentence as if you killed a human. Now, what is the price for killing a tiger? This is a serious question this country needs to ask itself at this time.
This story rising in the media gives us an opportunity to scrutinise India’s Forest Department and other wildlife boards of interest. How could this be allowed to happen? What will be done about it? The corruption of the ‘conservation boards’ runs deeply. The Wildlife Conservation Trust gives the go ahead for tiger killings, which in theory works well. A conservation board whose interests should be the welfare and future stability of the wildlife. Yet when you put a team of people in charge of protecting a countries wildlife who are only interested in money and personal gain, you put that wildlife at huge risk! Evidence will be falsified and whole areas eradicated of its tiger populations for the gain of commercial business. India’s tigers and other unique, but vulnerable, species will continue to suffer so long as people that don’t give a shit are in charge.
Avni and her cubs (who will soon be dead alongside their mother) are one example but in fact corruption in India’s Forest Department can be seen every day. We visited Gir not too long ago, the last surviving home of the Asiatic Lion. This is another species that falls under the protection of the Forest Department. In April 2013, the Supreme Court gave order that a population of lions from Gir were to be moved to Madhya Pradesh. They gave a deadline of 6 months for this to happen. It was a simple request to ensure the lions future stability. By living in only one location they are at risk of disease or freak weather events. The location they are to be moved to in Madhya Pradesh has been ready to receive the lions since 2004, yet nothing has happened. A series of petitions and objections from Madhya Pradesh’s Forest Department and Gujurat has ensured the lions stay put. Why has this happened? It is because they are selfish. Gujurat feels the lions belong to them, they are proud to have them only in their state and they refuse to share. Through their short-sightedness they fail to realise that this is about protecting an endangered species which may exist nowhere soon, if nothing is done.
Recently 23 lions died due to Canine Distemper Virus, transmitted through domestic dogs. This is approximately 4% of the remaining population in just 3 weeks. The same virus wiped out nearly half the African lion population in the 1990’s. Yet I guarantee they still will not be moved. This failure falls on the whole system and the Indian government which continues to overlook such a childish approach to an endangered species’ future.
(For more information and facts about the corruption surrounding Avni’s murder please look at Jason Fernandes’ Facebook page here.)
Over the past 56 months India has been building a bronze statue of Sardar Patel, a leading figure from India’s independence. Oh, but the statue is twice the size of the Statue of Liberty and cost £330 million to build. I’m not sure where to even begin on this topic since there is so much wrong with it, but let’s start by telling you what a local Mumbai man told me. I asked our tour guide, a man who was born in Mumbai, what he thought of the new statue – an unbiased question, just curious. He told me that it made him angry that the government had used Indian tax payers money to build a statue of a man, as a declaration of love. He said that he also loves Sardar Patel, but he can not afford to build a monument as a way of showing it, that he has to show his love in other ways. To paraphrase ‘if they want to build a statue to show they love him, they should pay out of their own pocket’. This is a man who feels he has been used and his money wasted!
Just think about how much money has gone into building this for one moment. £330,000,000. How many homeless people could be fed with that? How many children could be given an education? How many tonnes of litter cleared from the streets? How much infrastructure restored? This is a country that has some serious issues regarding pollution and poverty. Yet it sees this statue as a worthy way to spend £330 million? No wonder the people are frustrated, it’s a slap in the face.
I feel like India, due to its issues of poverty, gives a façade of not being a wealthy nation sometimes. That is just not true at all. India has money, LOADS of money, it is in the top 10 wealthiest countries and has the fastest growing economy in the world. The problem is it’s never used in the right way. Again, the corruption and the greed of the government fails the country. The money seems to rarely be directed back into the community, it goes straight into their pockets. In this case, a statue. A selfish act by their president who commissioned the statue to be built near his home town in Gujurat.
One of the biggest problems facing the Indian population is a lack of education. Time and time again we meet YOUNG Indians whose answer is ‘sorry I never went to school’. We watch people simply throw their rubbish to the side and ask ourselves how they can do that. Do they not know that is bad for the environment? Well, what if they actually don’t know, all they know is what they watch other people do and assume that is correct. Educating the next generation could shape India’s future and create a cleaner country that cares about its environment, it’s wildlife and understands the consequences of their actions. I only explain this since the misguided priorities of this country leads to millions of children missing out on an education. Approximately 50% of children in India don’t have access to education according to Smile Foundation India. That should be the priority! A government that builds an unnecessary statue for such a ludicrous amount of money when there are issues like this in their country, is a government that doesn’t give a shit.
The fact another statue is planned to be built in the bay of Mumbai just leaves me speechless.
But that is just what it boils down to and why Brad and I have felt SO unbelievably frustrated at times during our travels. The way this country just doesn’t give a shit. Not about anything but the money in their own pockets. I know that I don’t know the whole story and I have only been in India for 2 months so my opinion may not be completely correct. But we talk to people that live here and we hear the same things time and time again.
– The country is over populated and the people know this is a problem
– The government is corrupt, everything is about bribes and who you know
– The Forest Department who is supposed to be concerned about conservation is mostly concerned about money
– You have some of the richest people in the world living alongside thousands of the poorest
– The government is sick with greed
How can the correct decisions be made when these things are true of your country?
We love India, the people here have such big hearts and are so curious and interesting. It is a huge country with so many amazing ecosystems full of beautiful creatures. It just makes us sad that everywhere you go you see the same things – pollution and poverty.
The government needs to take responsibility for the issues inside its own country. Do not accept aid from other countries when you can afford to spend so much money on a statue. It’s like someone who can’t afford food, going and getting their nails done. That’s not what their money should be spent on – food is the priority! Why is the way a country is run any different? They have priorities, BIG ones. India shouldn’t allow other countries to pay for the issues they have whilst they are spending the people’s money on a pointless statue that the people don’t even want.
The more you think about it the more it just doesn’t make any sense.
Travelling India whilst these news stories have emerged has really got our blood boiling. We have connected with the people in this country and seen it’s endangered species. We have seen first hand the homeless people begging for money, the look in their eyes that they are scared they will not eat that night. We have seen the piles of litter at the edge of every road, the smog that carpets the cities. We know some of the struggles this country faces. We’re angry for the people of India and we’re angry for the tigers who cannot fight their conservation battle for themselves.
I hope that people revolting against these stories brings attention to the corruption in this country. But I doubt any change will occur. It will be news today and forgotten tomorrow and the poor will continue to be poor and the tigers will continue to be murdered.
It’s a pessimistic view to have but how can you feel positive about change when the people in charge make such bad decisions?
I have more to say about the hypocrisy of India (which isn’t all doom and gloom) including their animal welfare but this will be discussed in a later blog at the end of our time in India.
I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on these news stories. How have they made you feel? Leave a comment below.