As Times Goes By...
October 2006: The fundamental things apply
As time goes by
Dooley Wilson, in the song made famous by the film, Casablanca
When I started Sanctuary 25 years ago, India had just emerged from its darkest imaginable wildlife tunnel.
Post Independence, a virtual massacre had been unleashed as deprived Indians began to exercise what they saw as their right to shoot, trap and slaughter wild animals previously ‘reserved’ for the British and Indian royalty.
Worse, we begged and borrowed money from the World Bank and the IMF and used it to tear down forests, rip up mountain sides and reclaim wetlands “so that we too could become a developed nation.”
By the seventies, it became clear that the tiger and many other species would vanish. The late Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi was now persuaded to introduce new protective legislation for wildlife.
Organisations such as the Bombay Natural History Society, led by all time greats such as Dr. Sálim Ali, Humayun Abdul Ali and Zafar Futehally used their powers of persuasion to win protection for ecosystems and species. The World Wildlife Fund now began to turn public opinion in the direction of wildlife protection. No longer heroes, hunters became villains and had to speak about their exaggerated exploits in hushed voices behind closed doors for fear of public rebuke.
Sanctuary was born in 1981, into an era of ‘peace’. The basic framework to protect wildlife had been put in place. Political support was strong.
But by the nineties, the dream had begun to sour. The World Bank had weaseled its way into the forest and wildlife decision-making process. By 2000, the tiger was in steep decline. Today, in 2006, Indira Gandhi’s Congress Party and its constituents still dream of becoming as rich as America. It has begun dismantling their late leader’s protective laws.
Dark clouds loom.
Sanctuary is 25 years old today. But we have no time to celebrate. We intend, instead, to redouble our battle against the dismal ones – with a young India on our side. And though our battlefield is red with the blood of slaughtered tigers, we will prevail because young India knows it is in their self-interest to protect the forests that provide them with water and feed their spirit.
Such “fundamental things do apply… as time goes by.”
Bittu Sahgl, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXVI No. 5, October 2006