In 2011, when the contested politics between government bodies, activists, non-governmental organisations and conservationists was rife at the Mudumalai sanctuary in Tamil Nadu owing to an impending ‘Elephant Corridor Project’, I was there. I was there documenting a small town unnoticed in the Nilgiri region of Tamilnadu as they silently made history with a first of its kind sign of positive unity towards a cause in the frenzy of State Elections. The people of Masinagudi region had much to complain against government brutality, as they put it. What is the use of casting votes when all they received so far was many a deaf ear? This conscious judgment loomed large in the minds of the people of the area as they decided not to vote. They then stumbled upon this little section in the Constitution of India which read of a provision that rightfully allowed a person to choose not to vote for any of the candidates citing reasons for it. They decided to go for the 49 O instead of not voting and sitting at home in the hope to make a difference.
As per the recent judgment on the issue by the Madras High Court, people falling under the cited ‘Elephant Corridor’ needed to be evicted in a matter of 3 months. What the judgment did not specify is which areas are being considered in this whole ‘Elephant Corridor Project’. The matter looms large and dates back to a few years wherein the initial proposal for the corridor was around 600 acres, following which a review was probed owing to which in a matter of 48 hours an Expert Committee came up with figures as much as 7000 acres as a reviewed total. The tribal and the forest dwellers of the area are in a way sandwiched between the resort owners who have mushroomed in the area and the Government. The judgment gave a blanket decision on the issue giving all rights to the State to exercise its executive powers in the matter. Even though they had the protection of the Forest Dwellers Act to their disposal, the issue was not as black and white as it was seemingly portrayed.
Matters changed since then. Actually, the State government changed and hence the matters changed. The implementation never happened and so far things remain the way it was. What remained with me are portraits from the jungle of people who fell prey to the politics of segregation. These people’s lives are integrated with the forest and have been since generations before them. The forest needs them as much as they need the forest. Co-existence of man and the wild is not new. What is new and hazardous is how the forest falls prey to greed. These people from the jungle have stories. Stories from the jungle, of survival, betrayal, joy, curiosity, surprising elements. Their lives revolve around the forest. The ways of the forest has been handed down to them since generations. They do not know any other way. They would be a lost species anywhere else.
MASINAGUDI | TAMILNADU | 2011