Poverty is wealth of Dhangars

Lethargy, inertia plague the state administration
Poverty is wealth of Dhangars
Poverty is wealth of Dhangars

Yes, poverty is the eternal wealth of the Dhangar community, ironically though. And, fear is their constant defence. There is the constant struggle for existence in the face of attacks from wild beasts like tigers and leopards. This is the plight of Goa’s shepherd community settled along the foothills of the Western Ghats. Liberation of Goa 58 years ago has meant very little for them. The very fact that their hamlets do not have basic facilities like road connectivity, water supply, health care and power supply is a candid proof that the message of freedom and welfare state has not reached them as yet. On the other hand, they are being treated as intruders into the domain of the Forest Department ever since wild life sanctuaries were notified at different times but without consulting the local residents. This is the common story all along the habitats of Dhangars whether it is in the village of Kumthal, Karanzol, Golavli or Borimal. It defies reason as to why only this community has not been included in the central list of Scheduled Tribes on par with Gawdas, Kunbis and Velips so far.

There is the ambience of persecution akin to that of earlier stages of colonial rule where “Bhumiputras” are denied ownership of the lands they have tended since time immemorial. In fact, they are the custodians of the forest wealth of the state. Two months ago, in my column “Bhumiputras deserve justice”, I had highlighted the plight of the shepherd community and how officialdom has been playing tricks with them. Now, the Editor of GT has provided a graphic picture of the sufferings of this community after visiting Borimal hamlet. It was only when the news about the death of four tigers at Golavali hamlet, suspected due to poisoning hit the headlines of the media that the politicians [who claim to be custodians of people’s welfare] suddenly pounced against each other to grab a pound of credit over the dead beasts. They were demanding inquiries after inquiries. But, none bothered about the fate of the two Pavne families whose five members were arrested and put in custody. Those at home faced starvation either because their cattle were killed by tigers or there was no male member at hand to sell the milk of those cows which had survived. The team rushed by the Centre to probe the issue found that the state officialdom was lethargic. The forest department, on the other hand, came out with the idea that the villagers had to be educated on man-animal conflict. The attitude of the staff dealing with the affected families was stated to be despicable as some of them were found terrorizing the womenfolk.

It was the local people particularly from neighbouring Bicholim taluka who raised voice against the injustice that was being meted out to the Dhangar families. They also brought the matter to the notice of Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant, who took a positive view of the situation, and promised to help out the families and, if necessary, those directly exposed to the threat of tigers would be rehabilitated at appropriate place. Since then the attitude of the forest officials reportedly mellowed down. For example, chief principal conservator of forests Subhash Chandra went on record that his department would speed up disbursal of compensation of Rs 15,000 against every cow that might be killed by tigers. It seems many Dhangars did not even know that such assistance scheme was available under Kamdhenu scheme of the government. Mhadei wildlife sanctuary like two other similar ventures were almost born in sin because they were notified under the President’s rule 20 years ago when Lt. Gen. J F R Jacob was the state Governor for a short duration. The decision to notify three wildlife sanctuaries simultaneously had no popular mandate because a popular government did not exist, according to those who are in the know of things. I have still not found a reasonable answer to the question as to why at all these sanctuaries were created almost overnight without waiting for the arrival of popular government. And, the law is an ass so far as cancellation of the wildlife sanctuaries status once it is notified. The result is that along with Molem, Cotigao, Bondla and these three sanctuaries cover almost the entire stretch of hilly region on Goa’s eastern side where right of wild animals override that of human beings. With east Goa going to wild animals and the west to the tourists, what is left for susegado Goans is only the plains in the middle region which is inundated by a chain of rivers. The very fact that no plan of action had been put in place to protect either human beings or wild beasts in Mhadei wild life sanctuary for the last 20 years is a poor commentary on the officialdom. This is because Mhadei has remained what it was when it was notified as such. Wild beasts including tigers come and go in search of prey from across the Western Ghats. These animals kill the cattle of the local residents whose only protection is the Divine Hand. For example, the forest department has neither shifted these people to the peripheries of the sanctuary nor have they been provided the basic tools to defend themselves and their cattle from attacks of wild animals. The entire episode has turned out to be a mockery. For, if four tigers were killed through poisoning by local residents it was because they did not know how to handle the awesome scenario. Who is to be blamed for all this mess, then? Lethargy and inertia are the two factors that have been plaguing the state administration ever since the devil of defections descended on Goa during the decade of 1990s. This phenomenon has been eating into the vitals of the state economy. That is the reason why vital activities like the mining and export of mineral ore tend to roost almost eternally. Somebody blunders for reasons best known to him or her. And, the state pays dearly for such blunders. Even the construction activity remains paralyzed for reasons best known to those who decide things. You cannot build magnificent castles on the foundation of a limping economy. It is difficult to hazard as to how many wild beasts like tigers Goa’s forest tract can sustain. But, what about the Bhumiputras who are left to live like substandard humans?

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