A NILGAI’S TALE:
My name is Nilgai. I am the largest Asian antelope. I live in scrub forests in the Indian subcontinent. For centuries, humans have regarded me as a sacred animal. I am revered by Hindus. They may have killed other animals for meat but never me or my namesake, the cow.
Today, things have changed. There is a shoot-at-sight order on me by the Indian government. My family is dead and my race is being wiped out.
It started three months ago when the Bihar government hired trained shooters from Hyderabad to kill us. People said that the move was based on a notification by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) that declared my kin and our friends, wild boars, as “vermin” in some districts of the state. It did not stop there; two more notifications followed my death warrant, declaring wild boar as vermin in districts of Uttarakhand. The reason, they said, was that we were causing damage to human food and agricultural income. The result? I am a hostage in my own home, across Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. I hail from Mokama in Bihar. My family was murdered and killed by a man named Nawab Shafat Ali Khan, who claims that he killed my wife, children and over 250 other nilgai as part of his “social service”.
Farmers in India are committing suicide because of lack of resources, not because we raided their crops. The government has for long used us as a scapegoat to appease angry farmers. Is it because we do not have a voice? Because we cannot protest and vote governments out?
The culling order, I heard humans discuss as I hid from their view foraging for food, is apparently historic. For the first time since 1947, the Central government has exercised something called Section 62 of my protection warrant, the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. It is ironic because the Act meant to protect me gives the government the power to declare me and my cousins listed in Schedules I and II (b) as “vermin” for any area and period of time.
What is vermin, you ask. Calling us vermin basically means that we are treated akin to rats in your house. We can be killed at sight and no one will question the killers.
Before this, only Section 11 (b) of the Wildlife Protection Act was used. Under this, the state chief wildlife warden (the human guardian of animals in the forests) can permit hunting of wild animals if he is convinced that an individual wild animal or group (there are nutters amongst us too!) has become dangerous to human life or property. This was understandable, and the crazies among us who wanted to hurt humans or went mad were bumped off. But what harm have the others done? Can we kill all humans because some are crazy?
The Uttarakhand proposal submitted by the chief Wildlife Warden D.V.S. Khati that forms the basis on which the Union government allowed culling of wild boars in the state says, 'No scientific survey or census of the wild boar population has been carried out. However, since crop damage caused by wild boar is increasing, wild boar is estimated to be overpopulated.' The same is true for monkeys and nilgais.
Really, now! As ever, we fall victims to the popular perceptions that we are dispensable. By the way, the country does not have data on the population of any animal proposed to be culled or extent of crop damage that we are said to have caused.
As not all animals are bad, not all humans are thick. There are some in the human fraternity who feel our pain. For instance, Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister of Women and Child Development and a former environment minister, openly questioned the move of declaring us as vermin, saying that, 'I don’t understand this lust for killing.' Other animal lovers and wildlife activists share her sentiment. They referred to “state-sponsored murdering of wildlife” and said that it is based on human convenience. Animal activist Gauri Maulekhi moved the Supreme Court against the Bihar incident, saying that the mindless slaughter of protected animals without holding any inquiry was unconstitutional. She argued our case saying, 'The concept of vermin has been created for short-term human convenience, based on many flawed assumptions.' (Hear! Hear!)
I ask you: You enter my home. You cultivate your food on my pastures and electrify your fences to prevent me from sharing your food. You cut the trees I used to sleep under, to make your homes. Is your greed still not satiated? Will you kill me and my brethren till none of us is left? Then what will you do? Kill each other? But aren’t you doing that already? Simply because one encounters a species quite regularly does not mean they are in excess and need to be culled. You see me regularly because you live in MY home.
DUKHIYA SINGH’S SAGA:
Mera naam Dukhiya Singh hai (My name is Dukhiya Singh). This is because I am a harried soul. I hail from Bihar, but I speak for all the farmers in the country today.
There is a saying, “Jaisa boge waisa paoge” (As you sow so shall you reap). Where? I sowed chana dal (gram), expecting a yield of at least 100 quintals in my five-acre plot. I barely managed to get 45 quintals—all because of the wretched nilgai.
The government has assessed the damage to crops and according to data provided by a man called N.P.S. Chauhan in the Wildlife Institute of India, animals cause heavy damage to wheat, gram and mustard crops not only by foraging but also by trampling, resting and their daily movement in fields.
In areas like Mokama where there is a high density of nilgai, damage to wheat, gram and moong was assessed to be 35–70 quintas for every 100 quintal produce. The wretched creatures don’t even eat the mustard crops but damage about 60 per cent of the total produce by trampling on it!
Farmers across the country have tried everything from using fear-provoking stimuli and chemical repellents to fencing agricultural areas, capturing and translocating, sustained harvesting and reproductive management of animal populations. Farmers from Mandsaur district in Madhya Pradesh lost more than half their opium produce to nilgai in 2015.
The problem is not only in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh; almost all the northern states are harassed by nilgai. In 2009, the government issued a note stating that the extent of crop damage due to nilgai was 50–70 per cent in Uttar Pradesh, 50–60 per cent in Haryana and 10–20 per cent in Gujarat. Haani Bhai was a happy man in 2007–08 when his state (Gujarat) government had allowed 3,475 village panchayat sarpanch to kill nilgai.
Animal rights activists say that it is wrong to kill animals. But the practice is not new. Many countries regularly cull animals to keep their populations under check. For instance, between 2006 and 2012, England culled 1,861 badgers because the authorities suspected the animal of transmitting bovine tuberculosis to cattle. Since then, the UK government has regularly culled badgers. In Canada, seals are regularly slaughtered on the ice floes off the country’s east coast to protect the North Atlantic cod fishery. Every year, the government sets the number of seals to be killed.
This year Canada plans to kill 4,68,000 seals. The Mauritius government has ordered the culling of 18,000 of Mauritius fruit bats as they are perceived to be causing significant damage to commercial fruit crops. Even the national animal of Australia, the kangaroo, is culled to prevent damage to vegetation. In fact, every May, Australia culls 2,000 kangaroos. And here we are still crying foul over the proposal to kill the peafowl!
Do the activists think of us when they eat? Every morsel of food on their plates is a result of our sweat and toil. You cannot kick us in the stomach and hope to be well fed. If killing animals is the solution to our problem, kill them. Otherwise, activists will have our blood on their hands.