Tag Archives: soliga

Goodbye Jadeswamy

“Sir, pls confirm if yellow-throated bulbul is seen near forest IB”

This was his last message to me a few days back. Jadeswamy was checking with me if the bird he saw was indeed the bird Profile Jadeswamy e1492661564160 considered globally threatened and seen only in stony parts of several south Indian hills. He was watching it near his house in BR Hills. Of the identity there was no doubt; on asking the description of the bird, his message clearly showed his keen observation skills, and his eye for detail. He said “sir, the throat and full head is yellow and when it’s flying around end of tail prominent white spots”. Although first reported (from BR Hills) in literature in 1995, the bird was missed during the survey of the region by Salim Ali. Later records are few and far between.

Jadeswamy's last checklist, a day before he died (September 2, 2017)

Jadeswamy’s last checklist, a day before he died (September 2, 2017)

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Jadeswamy Madaiah was a keen naturalist and a wonderful human being. I met him as one of the Soliga people, Kalyan had selected to train as a naturalist for Gorukana. Kalyan had rightly found in him a deep sense of awe about wildlife and natural-history, as well as an attention to detail. His ability to spot large mammals like Elephants at a distance, or tiny and beautiful birds and his enthusiasm to interpret these to the visitors to the hills was unmatched. His entrepreneurial skills too were exemplary. His keenly followed social media posts show a deep interest in wildlife and environmental issues. Jadeswamy also cared a lot for his community, often lamenting about the difficulties that his fellow Soliga people face in overcoming various disadvantages. His investment in learning English was a part of his drive to overcome these generational disadvantages and “stand up on his own feet” (as he used to say). Be it a nesting bird, or the time when mothers have delivered in his car on the way to hospitals, his social media updates were a snapshot of what life is in and around BR Hills. Over the years, his interest in birds had blossomed into a great interest in eBird, possibly the first Soliga birder to come onto an online birding platform. In a recent interview to Birdcount India, Jadeswamy set a birding goal for the coming months to “take a photo of the Yellow-throated Bulbul, which is seen in BR Hills.” He also aspired to be a “good/top birder from Chamarajanagar district”.

One of several Elephants that Jadeswamy photographed in BR Hills few months back

One of the several Elephants that Jadeswamy photographed in BR Hills a few months back (Photo obtained from his Facebook feed)

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Earlier today, Jadeswamy, breathed his last, leaving behind two wonderful daughters, whom he loved more than anything and his wife, whose work as a nurse, he was proud of. Hundreds of well-wishers and friends of his gathered around VGKK hospital in the hills on hearing the news of his demise. I heard that most of the people from near and far had gathered, ranging from Soliga Sangha leaders, to naturalist friends and various other residents of the hills. His untimely demise leaves a void in many lives beyond his loving family. All I can say at this time is “may his tribe flourish”.

Painting with a broad brush: Stereotyping “tribal” identity

Yet another “tribal” story in a national newspaper. Based on my reading, the story is based on the seizure of a consignment of ghee packets at a forest checkpost by the department. Clearly this indicates that some of the ghee packets under a government scheme are finding ways into private markets for sale. Several reports abound about such “hand-outs” entering private markets. Often, these instances are cited as reasons for not giving subsidies or hand-outs. Without going into that larger policy argument, there’s a finer point to be made here on how the “tribal” identity gets typecast in news coverage.

From my letter to the Editor of NIE,

But, is it fair from this information to come to an all-encompassing title that paints all tribals in BR Hills with the same brush? In my opinion, journalists should put more effort into stories. For example, what kind of intermediaries are involved in organising such elaborate siphoning away of these food products? Often various intermediaries siphon away such hand-outs. Even, if ALL tribals were doing this, is it not the responsibility of the reporter to go a bit beyond this story and find out why? Is it not fair to at least interview/ask some tribal leaders/individuals for their opinion and reflect in a story? If a few members of a community/caste of people X residing in (say for example) Mandya were to do the same, would you write a story saying “People of Caste X from Mandya selling ghee for booze”. I would think not. Then why would you sanction such a story on “tribals”.

For a reputed national newspaper of NIE’s credibility, I would have expected higher journalistic and editorial standards.

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Of absurd letters and misplaced priorities

It is not too rare to see very bizarre letters. In fact, there have been letters unearthed from over 2000 years ago from the dawn of writing itself often written by people who wanted to complain about services or to authorities. More recent funny letter compilations abound on the Internet, many of them quite lame leave letters supposedly written by staff of  IT companies around Bangalore. But, this letter I chanced upon at one of Karnataka’s tiger reserves (BR Hills) definitely takes the cake on absurdity and ad-hocism, let alone other  more serious issues with the letter like making a mockery of people’s rights for starters. Continue reading

the biligirirangan hills

The BR Hills forests, until recently protected as a wildlife sanctuary under the

BR Hills have been identified as a source site for tigers, one among 42 such sites globally (Source: Walston et al, Plos Biology)

Wildlife Protection Act have recently been upgraded to a Tiger Reserve. And by no means without reason; BRT is one of the 42 global source sites for tigers, “so termed because these areas contain concentrations of tigers that have the potential to repopulate larger landscapes”. However, the forests are also a sanctuary to the Soliga people, who are themselves also increasingly seeing a role in tiger conservation. With a new, dynamic officer taking over as the Field Director of the tiger reserve, there was an effort at making a booklet to introduce new visitors to the rich wildlife, people and culture that these hills hold. Reproduced below is my contribution to the booklet, now incorporated into a well-designed booklet available to all visitors to the hills. Continue reading

Ping is my birthright and I shall have it…

I have a dream….

If Martin Luther King were born in the forests of BR Hills in Southern Karnataka during the nineties, apart from perhaps running into Veerappan, he could’nt have expected more adventure. Nonetheless, I am sure he would still have had a dream.

His dream would have to do much more with owning a television and watching an action film. It may have been about having a bulb at home and a tap with water. It may have been about seeing the insides of a car or wearing colourful clothes. These are some dreams that a ML King look-alike, Ketha has in BR Hills.

Ketha from Gombegallu

Ketha from Gombegallu

Ketha is a Soliga tribal boy far removed from the realities that some of us take for granted. He does not have a facebook profile and the only tweets he hears are that of a a bird which shares his name, the Kethanakki, named after a tribal god’s coming that this bird announces promptly. He lives in a small hamlet within a wildlife sanctuary.

His life is a part of several debates in which he has no voice. There is for example the school of thought on development that wonders why indigenous tribal people are being ‘developed’. What about erosion of their culture? Another argues passionately that the fruits of development (Facebook and twitter included!) cannot be denied to them. The State refers to him as marginalised and has scheduled him.He is one of the 400-odd tribes in India constituting 8 per cent of our population.

Another group of people strongly believe that he and his kind living in protected areas are in fact the obstacle to the conservation of our forests. Wherever, man and wildlife have tried co-existance, some say has ended in a diasaster. Inviolate areas for wildlife are touted as a prerequisite for any conservation strategy. Others weave a more utopian reality for Ketha, suggesting that conservation of wildlife and human livelihoods can go together. Others nuance it further saying that this has definitely happened in some areas. Ketha, of course is blissfully unaware of such realities.

Where would he read these debates? In the textbooks….

Hardly….In the textbooks, Ketha finds references to events, he cannot understand even….such as September 9/11 terror attacks on the US. While, this chapter in the 9th Standard English textbook of Karnataka State Board makes a good effort at trying to convey to Ketha what a watershed these attacks were for global politics, it perhaps misses the boat on connecting with him on issues closer home such as tigers, tribal people or traditional knowledge.

What about the internet? Hardly. Ketha has no access to the internet. Having a local NGO run a school itself is such a privilege for him, when compared to his other tribal brothers in other areas.Perhaps, on the internet, Ketha could have participated in these debates that adorn journals and blogs.

Ketha and Pareto come to my mind as I read the recent guarantee of broadband internet access to every Finn as a fundemental right. I still remember joking about how I am waiting for the day when the Indian State will guarantee 2 Mbps per citizen with unlimited download as a fundemental right. Less than a year from my joke, a country that Ketha has never perhaps heard of, has guaranteed it. Recently, when Michael Moore made that wonderful ‘reality show’ called Sicko, he apparently removed scenes shot about the Norwegian health care system, because, nobody would believe it!

Anyways, my point is that there is today within Ketha’s lifetime, a country where broadband internet access has been granted as a fundemental right, while in Ketha’s country, we are still wondering how to give him and his kind a good primary education.

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