Bomma, a Jenukuruba, lived in Vodeyarahallimala tribal colony with his wife and 3 little children. His existence was relatively monotonous and his only worry each day was finding some employment locally, to keep the hearth in his little hut burning. His wife Chinamma was additionally burdened with his drinking habits and the entire family had nothing more than a hand to mouth existence. Being landless, they depended on the nearby forests for their sustenance. For generations, these people had lived in the forests with no worry about yesterday or concern for tomorrow. Bomma’s ancestors never really knew hunger or poverty. The forests gave them all that they needed. Their food were the roots, berries, honey and meat from the deer or the wild boar that they would occasionally hunt.
The year 1972 changed all that. The Government of India brought in the Forest Conservation Act and the forests that Bomma’s people loved and cherished were declared National Parks. His people were told that they were foreigners in their own land and all rights that they enjoyed in the forests were extinguished. They were evicted from the forests and forcibly settled in inhuman habitations on its fringes. They suddenly were exposed to mainstream society and were at a crossroad. They neither could integrate into a society that they did not understand nor could they go back to the comfort zones of their forests. They lacked the skills to acculturate and their only skill of collecting honey was of no economic value outside the forests.
Bomma lived in a world that he could never fully comprehend and the world never tried comprehending his. Last Tuesday seemed liked any other day. Chinamma saw him off at their hut and asked him to return early with firewood for her cooking. Little did she realize that she would never see him again! A couple of hours later she rushed out hearing a lot of commotion in the hamlet. People were running around helpless and confused. Only when the neighbour explained what had happened did the reality sink into Chinnamma. Bomma and another tribal were walking towards the forest when an elephant attacked them. Bomma fell as he was running and was trampled to death. His friend had come running back and had broken the news. The men folk were now grouping together to go and bring the body back.
It was a couple of hours later that Poshini told me what had happened. The local Range Forest Officer was informed and he had visited the site. This young officer had recently been posted here and was yet to be hardened by the system. He was at his humane best and ensured that his recommendation to the Government for compensation would be filed.
This whole incident left me feeling angry and impotent. Angry at a society and system that never really understood how inseparable the tribals are from their forest environs; angry that even after so many years of having been forced out, these tribals are yet to be equipped with the skills to cope. Would a monetary compensation of Rs. 75,000 or so have any meaning for Chinnamma? How much longer would it take for the Government to understand that it needs to look at its forest and tribal development policies with a fresh perspective? As Chinnamma learns to live without the little security that she had, would all of us be able to give her three little children a life better than what their father had? Is anyone listening?