Human Elephant (no) Conflict for members of the Bettakurumba communities in the Nilgiri mountains – Tamil Nadu

Tarsh Thekaekara tarshthek.wordpress.comJuly 4, 2009

Ramesh is bettakurumba, but not a traditional forest dwelling adivasi by any stretch of imagination. His mother is a health worker, and goes to office every day. He grew up in Gudalur town, likes to wear jeans and aspires to bat like Virendra Sehwag. He’s been to school all his life, and is in his 12th standard now. He’s been helping with the GPS mapping of the villages and sends me text message updates every now and then.

So how is he different from his average non tribal classmate? I assumed there was no difference. He himself does not think there’s much difference. But a recent event made me sit up and think. Despite all the modernities it appeared there is still something adivasi in him. […]

Soon after the hospital opened a tusker decided to visit.

It came almost up to the entrance, and sniffed around the ambulance. There was a lot of confusion and worry all around. This was a part of Gudalur town, and no one expected an elephant to stray so far away from Mudumalai. There were lots of kids living at the quarters, who were used to playing outside till late evening. […]

On the third day Ramesh told me he cut all their sugarcane from the patch behind their house and had taken into the forest and left it for the elephant! I thought he was joking. The sugarcane would have paid all their fees for a month, or given all the kids at the quarters many days of happy munching.

Why did you do that?!

‘Better I take it and let it eat there in the forest, otherwise it will come here. Anyway poor thing will also be hungry anna. Its been there three days, and does not have much to eat in that small forest. If it goes into the estate they will all shout and make lots of noise – burst crackers and beat drums – and it will get scared and angry.  It also needs to eat no. It came here by mistake I think, and now it is stuck. It can’t go back into the estate and back to the forest and can’t even come this side towards town.’

This was more or less the atitude of all the ‘educated’ and ‘modern’ adivasis living in the quarters – the elephant should not be here, but now that it was it had rights. It had to eat, and so it was quite alright if the banana plants around the houses and other tasty elephant food went.  Kids were not allowed to be out after 6, and were told not to make any loud noises after dark. The nurses changed the night shift from 8.00 to 6.00 so they could get inside before dark. Patients were all cautioned about going out in the night, and word was spread around to be careful if you had to come that side at night.

There were no attempts by anyone to chase it off, put on more lights outside make noise and keep fire crackers at hand or any of the other regular tactics used to keep elephants at bay. The elephant had come, and if you peacefully waited for a few days it would find its way back into the forest.

Things ended finally with the forest department bringing kumki elephants from the camp to chase this one through the estate back into the forest.

It was heartening to see that some adivasi values had stayed even as lifestyles changed.

Source: Human Elephant (no) Conflict « In the shade of a forest tree
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