Living with the enemy

Subrata Biswas | Updated on January 20, 2018

Too many women in Sunderbans have lost a husband to their feline neighbours. In the tussle over shrinking habitats, tigers are attacking the men who enter the forest for food

Rakhi Bhuiyan of Purba Gurguria village was only 15 when she lost her husband Bappa (18) in a tiger attack. The two had been married for only a year when a man-eater took Bappa’s life. “As Bappa’s family lost their agricultural land to the river during the Aila cyclone in 2009, he had to go to the forest to forage for food. Despite the risks, it was the only way of procuring our daily meals. I never liked his job, because I lived in fear every time he went into the forest for days,” says Rakhi, sitting beside her mother in their hut. It’s barely three weeks since she lost her husband.

A rapid rise in the sea level due to climate change is triggering a silent yet drastic livelihood change in the agricultural fields and water bodies of Sunderbans, the World Heritage Site that spans 10,000 sq km across the Indo-Bangladesh border. As agriculture and fishing become increasingly unviable in the island due to natural calamities and salt water ingression, a sizeable number of Sunderbans’s farmers have chosen the life of migrant labour. For those who could not migrate, the only options are fishing and collecting honey from the dense mangrove forested areas haunted by man-eaters.

The number of Royal Bengal tigers in Sunderbans is also on the decline. Pushed to the wall by loss of natural habitat, the tigers have turned on villagers who enter the forests in search of food. The proof of this is the large number of tiger widows on the islands.

Subrata Biswas is an independent visual storyteller and painter who divides his time between Delhi and Kolkata

Published on March 18, 2016

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