To protect the hunted, the Madhya Pradesh government has decided to engage the hunters. The government is offering Pardhi and Behlia tribes, the dreaded hunters of central India, alternative sources of income to protect the big cats.
They are being trained to fabricate electricity poles and their children being sent to schools as part of a unique experiment undertaken by the state government.
The wildlife department has moved 20 families of Pardhi and Behlia tribes out of the Panna tiger reserve to Janwar, 10 km from the park. They have been allotted a huge residential plot, which also houses a small industrial unit where the poles are fabricated. The remaining 41 families would join them soon.
“Their children are being taken to a special school. Through education, they’ll learn that killing animals is bad,” said park director L.S. Chaudhary.
The British had branded the Pardhis and Behlias as criminal tribes. Their hunting skills are well known and many see them as a threat to tiger population.
“For centuries, they’ve been killing animals, for themselves as well as the kings of Madhya Pradesh. Most of them are illiterate and hunting is all that they know. Killing is a part of their tradition,” said Arun Singh, a wildlife expert.
In 2004, Pardhis and Behlias were accused of killing tigers in Ranthambore reserve and it was said they worked for Sansar Chand, perhaps the most notorious wildlife trader. They were also accused of providing shelter to poachers in the forest. “They’re hunters and one generation passes the skills to the next,” Chaudhary said.
“I learnt hunting from my father and used to kill animals to provide for my family,” Raghav, a Pardhi, said.
It is to break this cycle that the forest department decided to provide them an alternative source of income. “After talking to them, we felt that if they would have viable income through the year, they’ll stop killing animals,” Chaudhary said.
Raghav, one of the tribals who moved to Janwar, has embraced the change. “Now we have a better option to earn money,” he said. The forest department has sought funds from the World Wildlife Fund to build permanent homes for the tribals.
The department, in the meantime, has been gifting them household items. “Life here is much better. In the forest, I had to walk 10 km to get water,” said Ratni, who was presented a water filter on Monday. So, the chances are that the animals could finally get to “live” in the forests.