It is an index to the remarkable surrender of good sense to a so-called tradition by West Bengal’s forest department that Calcutta High Court (coram: Radhakrishnan, CJ; and Biswanath Somaddar, J) has had to intervene and direct the government that the annual Shikar Utsav (hunting festival) ~ which stretches from January to June ~ must be stopped. What happens is veritable cruelty and it would be a misnomer to obfuscate the tragedy by referring to it as a “festival”, a crude etymological spin if ever there was one. It may sound incredible but nonetheless is true that no fewer than 200 wild animals, including the rare jungle cats, were killed this month in a forest that straddles West Midnapore and Jhargram districts.
This is not to forget the recent instances of poaching when not trapping to death ~ as was done to a tiger in the Sundarbans ~ and trains mowing down elephants. The judiciary’s imprimatur must of necessity be followed up by the executive with a ban on the deadly subaltern ritual that is rooted in calculated malevolence not the least because it is a flagrant violation of the Wildlife Protection Act, which accords the “highest protection” to monitor lizards. And yet these creatures have recently been done to death. Altogether the annual monstrosity has been tacitly condoned by the forest department. Faced with this callous indifference, the Bench has directed the district administrations, police, panchayats, and the Railways to lend what it calls “active assistance” to the forest department to stop the hunting of animals.
Tribal sentiment and rituals are not relevant in the overall construct. Very pertinently has the Human and Environment Alliance League (HEAL) contended that “there is nothing tribal about these festivals. Clad in denims and T-shirts, the intoxicated men are out for a day of pure recreational hunting”. It is an utterly sick perception of recreation that the High Court has now cracked the whip on. For all the orchestrated development of Junglemahal in terms of social indices, the canker of so hideous a “festival” has now extended throughout the region ~ East and West Midnapore, Bankura, Jhargram and Purulia.
It is cause for concern too that the respondents to the affidavit were “trying to avoid the court”, as the Bench has observed. It is difficult even to imagine the degree of cruelty ~ hundreds of thousands of hunters armed with spears, slingshots, bows, arrows, axes and knives raid the forests of Junglemahal to kill animals in the wild. Having failed to tackle the menace, there can be no defence of the indefensible, specifically the forest department’s description of tribal hunting as a “social problem”. This is a facile definition of an ugly truth. There is a stakeholder too many and there has to be a concerted effort towards decisive action. The hunter needs to be hunted.