Elephants cause havoc in Dumka

So does the state forest department...

By Ramesh Sharan, Babita Sinha
Published: Saturday 31 May 2003

Elephants cause havoc in Dumka

-- Paharia tribals in Dumka, Jharkand have been at the receiving end of a herd of twelve marauding elephants since three years . These tribals are amongst the most marginalised groups in the country; they are heavily dependent on the forest for subsistence. This brings them into regular conflict with forest officials. Many Paharias have been implicated in false cases by forest officials. The elephant menace has added to their woes. Fourteen Paharias have lost their lives in elephant attacks in the past three years; 10 were crushed to death on one night alone in 2002 (see table: Victims and damages). Pregnant women are forced to deliver on wooden platforms constructed on treetops for fear of pachyderm attacks.

Standing crops have been destroyed in a dozen Paharia villages and farming has come to a complete halt in Joram, Asanbani, Butbaria and Kanhaidih villages. The government has provided some compensation to the next of kin of those killed in the elephant attacks. Some voluntary associations have also come forward to help the families of the victims. However, repeated pleas from the tribals for help in getting rid of the marauding elephants from Dumka has elicited no response from the state forest department.

Victims and damages
of victims

Name of block

Year Status
Death by elephants 3 Kathikund, Gopikandar 2001 Got compensation
11 Kathikund, Gopikandar 2002 Got compensation
Accidents 10 Kathikund 2001 Fractures, chest & waist injuries - one dead
Loss and damage to property 54 Shikaripara Nov-Dec 2002 Damage to houses, cowsheds, paddy and loss of cattle and food-grain
13 Kathikund
12 Gopikandar
Loss and damage to property 30 Kathikund 2003 Damage to houses, shops and loss of grain 
26 Gopikandar
Source: Summerised from a report of the Agraiariam Assistance Association, March 2003
From apathy to oppression With repeated petitions falling on deaf ears, 2,000 tribals blocked the Dumka-Pakur road on February 22, 2003. They demanded: "The chief minister should come here and take away the wild elephants. We will not accept any alluring compensation ." The Agrarian Assistance Association (aaa), a voluntary organisation working with marginalised people of Jharkhand, spearheaded this agitation. Since 1996 aaa has promoted the gram sabha movement in the area. This movement has turned the village assemblies of the tribals into effective instruments in the tribals' fight over land, forest and other natural resources.

The government responded with deceit and heavy-handedness. They tricked the tribals into withdrawing their agitation by promising to seek the help of a team from Bankura in West Bengal to deal with the elephant terror. But to the surprise and anger of the villagers, the forest range officer then lodged a First Information Report against the secretary and other members of the aaa in the Kathikund police station. The police officer-in-charge and the Block Development Officer of Kathikund prohibited free movement of the secretary and other workers of aaa.

The gram sabhas have demanded the removal of the divisional forest officer of the area. Sakhi Sabha -- a women's group -- sought the National Commission on Women's intervention in the matter. The leader of the opposition also raised the issue in the state assembly. However, the elephant terror continues unabated in Dumka. The situation is like a time bomb with a short fuse -- a small provocation might cause it to explode resulting in havoc not unlike that caused by the elephants!

Ramesh Sharan is reader, postgraduate department of economics, Ranchi University and Babita Sinha is ugc research scholar, department of economics, Ranchi University

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