Wild in the Wilderness
Handling mob fury is a challenging task, especially in protected areas that can be damaged by one act of arson.
Written by Praneet Goteti
In a recent unfortunate incident at Melghat Tiger Reserve, many government staff including police and forest department officials, were grievously wounded and prime tiger habitat set fire to by an angry mob. The grasslands in the core area were just recovering when this incident took place.
It was the timely support from the police department and district administration that helped prevent further damage. But not before some of the staff received deep cuts delivered using axes and slingshots on their bodies by the enraged mob (Link to article).
Reading about this incident transported me back a few years to the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary (CWLS), where I had witnessed first hand the fury of a mob. It had given me an idea of how difficult it is to handle mobs and the need for immense restraint if things are not to blow out of control.
At the beginning of every year, thousands people enter CWLS and cross the river to attend a festival at the Sri Sidappaji temple in Chikkalur (to the south of the Cauvery) as the route through the forest and across the river is the shortest. As volunteers assisting the forest department in manning check posts and patrolling at CWLS, we were appraised of a high court order not to allow animal sacrifice and that the Forest Department would support this decision by not allowing livestock to be taken through the Sanctuary.
There were four of us volunteers and three forest watchers at one of the main check posts. Our responsibilities included assisting the forest department in manning the check post and ensuring that all vehicles were checked for alcohol and livestock besides advising travellers to drive slowly and give wildlife the right of way. We interacted with hundreds of people in as many vehicles and most were respectful and after some discussion were willing to comply with the law.
However, towards the end of the day there was one group that decided that they would not abide by the court order and wanted to take livestock in to the forest. We tried hard to reason with them but they decided to stage a protest. Quickly, a handful of protesters turned in to over two hundred protesters and the mob took over. People that did not have livestock and could easily have passed were stopping and trying to start a physical fight. We had radioed for help and the mobile squad was on its way but the crowd continued to swell and people wanted to overrun the check post.
I remember that it took a lot of restraint to stay calm and try to continue to reason with the people gathered there, as any act seen as a provocation from our side could result in a very real threat to life and subsequent damage to the forest. Eventually, the back up we had requested was unable to make it in time and the mob physically overran the check post. I remember four of us trying to hold down the gate as hundreds lifted it and pushed through.
It made me realise the immense danger that many of our frontline forest department staff face on a daily basis and more so on important days like the one we just witnessed. It made it clearer that we need to continue to find ways to support and assist our frontline staff, while at the same time taking steps to raise awareness and support in the local people and other government agencies, in close proximity to the forest. This is something that the volunteer group has continued to do to this day.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 5th, 2019 at 12:18 PM
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