This Global Tiger Day, in a stirring letter to humans from the national animal, incorrigible wildlife defender Prerna Bindra lends voice to the tiger.
Photo: Mayank Mishra.
It is International Tiger Day on July 29… and on this day you dedicate to me, here is what I have to say:
I do not quite understand. Why this day? A Tiger Day? Undoubtedly, it serves you well — you will hold many of those conferences-where you sit around tables in plush, cooled rooms in cement monstrosities (built after mining my forests, polluting the air, and over the graves of trees — but let’s not dwell on that for now), debating over my fate, and the ‘best’ course of action to save the tiger over five course meals; even as my brethren lay trapped, paws clasped in steel jaws, spears thrust into their mouths…to silence their roars.
Somebody forgot to tell the poachers about Tiger Day.
And you, who sit there sipping tea — or wine — and scrolling over Power Point, did you not sign away my forest to make way for a road for your speeding metal death traps? The man in white, who cut the ribbon to a round of applause, sold the jungle to get votes. And the one who exalted on the virtues and duty of saving the national animal? He, I am told, got a cut for letting a multinational rape my home for iron ore.
So my cubs, when they grew up, had nowhere to go. No territory that they could mark. I warned my son, showed him his boundaries, pointing to the rolling fields where Man played with his children, and manufactured his food. “Don’t venture there, child, not into human territory — it is No Tiger’s Land.”
He didn’t listen.
Not his fault, he is — no was — a good lad, if a bit wayward. The resident male — his father actually - whacked him and drove him away into the village. I remember my mom telling me stories about that land. It was ours, once…till Man took over. He is dead now, that child of my heart. Don’t be surprised. We have emotions too. We bring up our young for two years-feed them milk, protect them, kill for them, acquaint them with the lay of the land, teach them to hunt, imbibe in them the skills needed for survival…where we fail is to tutor them in the ways of man.
But I digress, as I was saying, he was poisoned. My poor child, he killed a buffalo. How was he to know? There were no deer, and hunger drove him to man’s lair. He smelt food, he killed it. For food. For survival. Not for ‘love’ or land or for not being allowed to watch TV. He paid for it. He came back to his meal after a small stroll, had his fill...and then died a slow, agonising death. I will not bore you with details of my family’s woes. But this I must say, few of my kin have survived. My daughter’s son (yes, I am grandmother now,) lost his life in a train accident. I chanced upon a newspaper that some men working on the path left and I saw him, stretched on the tracks–bloated, bloodied, mutilated. But I knew him by his tail, he had a strange one, almost totally black.
And so, Dear All-Powerful Man (yes, you are, even though they call ME the King or the Queen of the jungle), please leave my home alone. You have taken most of it away. I know of times when forests were spread far and wide in India. In just 100 years, 95 per cent of it is gone. Now, all I am left with is a tiny part of your (our?) country.
If you want me to live, leave it for me. And you, please stay away.
Of course, that would solve all our problems — a land without nasty two-legged creatures. But even I know life is not all black and white. I know that if we were unprotected, we would be killed overnight. Every last one of us. For we carry a huge price on our heads. You sell our skin and bones and whiskers and penis. I know that at my own cost. I have lost four of my children. In one place (not so far way), ‘Tiger Reserve’ they called it, for it was our sanctuary — all my kin are gone...slaughtered to be sold. There are no tigers there, anymore.
So, we need you to protect us. That is my second plea on this ‘Tiger Day.’
It is almost like asking the devil himself. And it is shameful, seeking your protection: To save us, the most powerful predators on earth. But even we, with our stealth and skill and power, cannot match your weapons and evil intent.
We live under the shadow of the gun, our trails are laid with death traps. And while you make all the right noises about saving the tiger (it gets good money and good press, I am told) — why is it that you guard artificial borders with a sophisticated army and weapons, but for us you make not a tenth of the effort?
You do not empower our protectors – few that there are.
Why, I have seen one of our protectors, poor man, shot by the bad men–poachers. He was a bit like us-courageous, and fought with them. He died.
My plea is: if you are to save us, help him, help us.
I have a final prayer: Do not take away our dignity. We are tigers, as much creations of God, as you. We are meant to live in the jungle, free and wild. Not in zoos, in cages so that you can spend a fine Sunday, poking at us, so that we roar and squirm. It amuses you, apparently. But it makes us very miserable.
We would prefer death.
Sometimes, as I told you before, we enter your domain. But it is not your domain, it was ours — till you stole it, and pronounced us encroachers. Our jungles keep shrinking, we don’t have food to eat (you like deer meat too, even though God in his wisdom has given you so much more variety), so we venture into your land. We hate it. Your territory stinks, it is dirty, filthy, and noisy — not like our beautiful, peaceful forest. And it holds many terrors. We know we put our lives at stake in your territory. It’s hunger that drives us. And if we get caught, trust me, it is our worst nightmare.
You turn on us with a vengeance. Surround us, beat us, set us afire. A tigress I know of was strangled, hung on a tree and then beaten and whipped, till life gave up on her. We are browbeaten and squeezed into a cage. Then, the circus begins—hundreds of Homo sapiens pour in from everywhere, everyone tries to get close (we are barred, so they feel heroic) to witness the agony of the caged beast. Big men flash lights at us—it’s called photography, even bigger men pose with us. Party over, and we are packed off to the zoo. When they took my neighbour, her children starved to death.
You know if you just let us be, we will slink away, run. We are terrified of you. And did you ever stop to think, when you come to our jungles—and thousands of you come in everyday-we see you, so often, all the time, but we go away quietly, quickly, most of the times not even showing ourselves. We fear for ourselves, and we don’t want to scare you.
We leave you alone.
Can you not accord us the same dignity?
Read more: Meet Prerna Singh Bindra
Read more: Into the Wild
Read more: Women for our Wilds
Read more: So Why Can’t We Save the Tiger?