The pandemic-induced lockdown, compounded by en masse return of thousands of migrant labourers, has forced people to enter restricted tiger reserves to catch fish or crabs, putting their lives at risk.
Satish Mondal, 47, went into the dense mangrove forest in the Sunderbans on Sunday last to catch fish and crabs with other villagers.
Keen to catch an extra bucket of fish and crabs, Satish threw his cautions away despite stern forbidding by his friends.
The dose of an extra brashness cost Satish his life as a full grown male tiger on the trail of its `novish’ prey, made no mistake.
His friends were too shocked to react at the sudden attack. By the time, they summoned courage and chased the tiger into the core area of the deep forest, it was too late.
Friends were just happy to have ferried the lifeless, mutilated body of Satish back home.
Satish, a migrant worker of Chargheri village from Sunderban’s Gosaba block happens to be the fifteenth victim of tiger attack in the delta since early March this year.
Eleven victims (since April) in just four and a half months as against barely ten in a year or so, is sort of a record the local forest officials aren’t shy to admit.
And eleven of the fifteen are all migrant workers.
And they blame it on the sudden penchant of a section of migrant workers who suddenly developed a `passion’ to row into the deadly creeks of the mangrove forest to catch fish and crabs for their livelihood.
A labourer working in the construction sector for the last two decades in southern India, Satish was forced to return home following the lockdown.
With no work, no savings staring at Satish and his fellow workers, a cyclone( Amphan) dashed their hopes of earning a living.
“ We were almost starving in the Amphan shelters in Gosaba and Satish was inconsolable when his elder died of a mysterious disease in the shelter,” recalls Arnab who accompanied Satish in the forest.
“We planned a secret trip to the forest to make some quick bucks. Four of us hired a boat and set out very early morning.”
Crab and fish were the lucrative target for them because the two yield a good cash in the wholesale market if one has a bucketful of them.
“ But unfortunately, Satish became overzealous to bag some extra catch of crabs.” Tears were rolling down Arnab’s eyes.
Satish and his batch of friends, all migrant workers of South, had little experience of venturing into the mangrove where tigers rule the forest and crocodiles the water.
“They are only paying for their inexperience as the man eaters in the Sunderbans are notoriously famous for being too cunning and dangerous to negotiate by people like Satish,” says a senior forest official on a condition of anonymity.
“ Here, in the delta crisscrossed by tiny creeks, if you throw your guard away for just a moment, your fate will hang precariously.”
But be it Satish or his friends, a large number of migrant workers in West Bengal have no wherewithal to make two ends meet.
A gnawing scarcity of minimum sources of livelihood bedevilling this region for decades has compelled several thousand residents to seek their fortune elsewhere in India.
Both the pandemic followed by Amphan have struck further lethal blows, turning many of them either poachers or inexperienced hunters, raring to sacrifice their lives for a living.
“This is a real cause of concern. It is true that there is no means of livelihood,” concedes West Bengal Forest Minister Rajib Banerjee.
“ We have plans to provide them with honey boxes so that they can culture honey easily. That will churn out an option for sustenance during the lockdown phase,” Banerjee assures EastIndiaStory.Com.
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The author has served no less than Al Jazeera and German TV, and India’s Parliamentarian magazine among others! To his credit goes a deep-rooted empathy for social issues and humans. He has wide experience in covering the northeast of India. His coverage on the 2020 Amphan cyclone in eastern India has easily been the best around the world