Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Photos: Forest dwellers displaced by Nagarhole Tiger Reserve fight for their ancestral land

A group of women pose for a photo inside Nanachi Gaddyhody village in Nagarhole forest. Photo: Md Meharban/Maktoob

For decades, evicted forest dwellers from India’s Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, near the Karnataka-Kerala border, are fighting to reclaim their ancestral land. The Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, which was declared as one of the 53 tiger reserves in India in 1999, has been home to Adivasi communities for generations.

House of Chaudamma, a 37-year-old woman who was resettled in Shettihalli Village in 2014. She and her family live in a single-room house. Photo: Md Meharban/Maktoob

However, since its designation as a wildlife sanctuary in 1955 and later upgraded to a national park in 1988, authorities have evicted people from at least 47 villages inside Nagarhole. The displaced forest dwellers have been either forcefully resettled inside gated communities with very few basic amenities or have been rendered homeless.

Nagamma J, a 60-year-old woman from Ranigate in Nagarhole forest, is grieving the loss of her son, Basppa, who was allegedly shot by a forest guard, according to family members. Photo: Md Meharban/Maktoob

The forest dwellers’ livelihoods are closely entwined with their land, and they cannot adjust to their new ways of life outside their original habitat. The evicted Adivasi communities, consisting of Jenu Kuribas, Betta Kurubas, Paniyas, Yaravas, and other original inhabitants, have been struggling for almost six decades to reclaim their homes.

Maara, the 62-year-old head of the village can be seen working on his government-provided land in Shettihalli Village. Photo: Md Meharban/Maktoob

In March, Adivasi communities from various parts of the country joined the locals of Nagarhole as a gesture of solidarity in their struggle to reclaim their original land.

The villagers of Nanachi Gaddyhody gather for a meeting inside Nagarhole Forest. Photo: Md Meharban/Maktoob

The forest dwellers’ situation is in stark contrast to the success of India’s tiger conservation program, which has succeeded in increasing the big cat population from 1,411 in 2006 to 3,167 in 2022, as per the data.

Seema, a 70-year-old woman from Nanachi Gaddyhody Village. Photo: Md Meharban/Maktoob

While the population of tigers is increasing, Adivasis are getting uprooted from their homes and losing their livelihood. The authorities have evicted thousands of forest dwellers over the years, leaving them homeless and living in penury.

The tribals of Nagarhole are living in resettlement colonies, which are like open jails for them. They have lost their land, livelihood, and dignity. Wildlife conservation in India is fraught with injustice against locals, and the tribals of Nagarhole are fighting to stop the forceful eviction, violence, and militarization of the forest in the name of conservation.

Photo: Md Meharban/Maktoob

The tribals of Nagarhole have been struggling to reclaim their homes, and in the process, several community members were killed by the police.

Under the forum of Nagarhole Adivasi Jammapale Hakku Sthapana Samiti (Nagarhole Adivasi Communities Rights Assertion Committee), the inhabitants of Nagarhole say they will continue with their demand until their rights to ancestral land are acknowledged, and the forceful eviction of forest dwellers is stopped.

Chaudamma carries water back to her home. Photo: Md Meharban/Maktoob

Md Meharban is an independent visual journalist based in New Delhi. His work focuses on humanitarian, environmental and fact-based stories. His work has been published in several global media outlets.

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