This forest guard had to deal with an unusual situation. But it made him reflect. The elephants are not trespassers, we, humans, are encroachers. And yet, we keep blaming the elephants
Last year, during summer, after spending six days at work, I was seeking comfort in the fact that finally, the next day was a Sunday. I had decided to sleep until late in the morning.
However, a work phone call woke me up at 5 AM on Sunday. I knew that the call made this early by my colleague, Ajay jee, the daily forest worker, must have been to convey something untoward. As soon as I picked up the call, I was told that an elephant had killed a girl in Dumra village of Sini Forest area under our Forest Division (Saraikela).
I hurriedly got ready and went to the police station and reported the matter there. Often, in such situations, the crowd becomes unruly, but when we spoke to the head of the village, we learnt that the situation was under control. He, however, asked us to reach as soon as possible. Soon, a small team, led by the Ranger Saheb, left for the village with some policemen (who had to carry out a panchnama and take away the body for post mortem).
On our way, I kept worrying about the atmosphere prevailing in the village and feared that the villagers might have become furious by the time we reached. However, our vehicle stopped amid the crowds. I approached the dead body, through the crowd at the scene. A chill ran down my spine for a moment when I saw the spectacle.
I felt as if the girl would sit up and ask: “What was my fault?”
The 15-year-old girl was lying on the cot. Her eyes were closed, but I could feel her gaze burn upon me demanding to know, “What was my fault? I couldn’t even finish my Class X exams! What wrong had I done?”
Mournful people were surrounding her little body. I realised too late that even I was crying when a tear burnt upon my cheek. My feet turned to flee away from the scene. People started talking among themselves. I was not in a mind to listen to anything at this time, but someone whom I knew broached the topic. “Last night, the elephant had suddenly come into the village. We were simply caught unaware. These two sisters were in the house. One had come out in the night to go to toilet and instead stood facing the elephant in the courtyard. Both of them started crying for help and tried to flee when the younger sister was caught by the elephant and slammed upon the platform where tulsi grew,” he said.
I could only hear as much before he could continue to give me further details of the death. I made excuses and got away. This was the first such incident in my year-long tenure when I saw a human being killed by an elephant. I did not dare to listen about the gruesome details of the last moments of the girl anymore. Several doubts had clouded my mind.
In front lay the broken mud platform of tulsi where both the sisters used to stand and worship before proceeding to their school for exams, the very platform where families used to gather to seek blessing for betterment of the house. Hindus believe that tulsi is the God’s abode and worship the elephant, Gajraj, as a living incarnation of Lord Ganesha. Yet, a Gajraj had killed the young girl! That too in front of tulsi, on top of it!
Perhaps the innocent girl would have asked God before she had breathed her last – “God, is this the result of my devotion?” Or perhaps the young noble mind, unaware of the ways of the real evil world, has already forgiven both, God, and Gajraj.
We returned from the village after duly completing all the proceedings as per the rules and calming down the distressed and angry villagers. Although I had come back, but this incident was now haunting my inner core of a believer. As day turned into night and the time inched ahead, I found my mind constantly revisiting the same heart-rending scene. Every day, it would seem as if that child was questioning me – who was at fault?
About a week later, the phone rang once again in the morning. The call reported that an elephant had died in a village called Palubeda in my sub-area. I arrived at the site of the incident halfheartedly at 7 AM. Looking at the elephant I could tell that it had also been 14-15 years old. Moving closer, it jumped to my mind that it was about the same age as that of the girl. But wasn’t anyone crying for the animal? Why was there no agitation? Why was everyone busy taking selfies? What strange ritual was this?
The elephant’s body was cold, and the chill was affecting me deeply. Moving closer, I could see its closed eyes moistened; as if he was moaning and asking … “My life has no value”? My ancestors and I have trodden upon this earth since the Golden Age when no human being had existed. But today everyone tells me that I am a trespasser! This has been my home, for centuries. Nevertheless, when all of you built your houses, I did not object. I gave up my old abode for you and migrated elsewhere. No one stops you from coming to the forest for wood where I had migrated to. You cut down the jungles and built your houses, nurse your bellies, deck up the family and the house, did I ever object? But then did you all ever understand my agony? We animals are deemed beasts, devoid of any reason, by you human beings, but you are sensible. Is it my fault that I can’t speak, or that you being a high-class creature don’t want to hear me speak in my language?”
Then I saw his partially-opened mouth. There were some bamboo leaves in it. Poor beast might even have been hungry. Another doubt leaped to my mind from its silence … Why am I doing this job? To earn for my family. Everyone earns to feed oneself. If a person does not get food and water for seven days, he might steal or snatch it from others; just for this six-inch long belly. Has it ever occurred to anyone that the elephant’s belly is much bigger? What might happen if it too does not get anything to eat? Did it have no right to worry about filling up his stomach?
Perhaps if the elephant had been talking, it would have asked: “Who decides it to be right for humans to enter forests and wrong for an elephant to come into the fields? Who gave these rights to the human beings to decide on behalf of other creatures?” I was not able to look up to that dead elephant. I didn’t realise when my eyes began watering. The picture of both, the girl, and the elephant were now in my subconscious, questioning “Who is guilty?”
Weighed down by such doubts I was passing through the jungle near a village one day. Finding a river flowing by, I went to it and paused to look at it. But its water was white, not blue. Coming closer, I saw that the whole river was full of fly-ash. There should have been sand on the shore, but there were fly-ash deposits. Lord only knows which company’s ill doing that might have been. Some villagers were taking chopped up logs of Sal tree in front of me.
Suddenly all my doubts began to unravel. In the name of ‘development’, we have committed unimaginable atrocities on nature. Our innumerable factories, quarries, trains, planes, our encroachments and our selfishness have created a chasm of conflict between us and the elephants and other wildlife. We were responsible for killing that elephant as well as the girl. They say, never spit with your mouth towards the heavens for the spit will land upon your face. The mindless plundering of nature and forests is exactly the same, ultimately destroying us.
The sound of the river gurgling, the desolation among the chopped trees nearby, and the question of the elephant and the girl reverberates in that silence – “Who is guilty?” But today, I finally got the answer. I gazed at my reflection in water. I am guilty, you are guilty, we human beings are guilty and guilty is our greed.
(The author is posted as a forest guard at Saraikela Forest Division in Jharkhand. He wrote this article during his training at the Forest Guard Training School, Chaibasa last month. These are his personal views)