Photos by Karthik Subramanian
Karthik Subramanian is an Independent photographer based in the UK and India. A native of India, Karthik studied a Masters in Photojournalism at the University of Westminster, London, UK. He has worked on many photo reportages for NGOs from Greece and India. His work Tigerland was recently exhibited at the Crossing Currents show held in London,UK. Karthik has been a freelance photographer since 2008.
The story covers the human side of the man-animal conflict between tigers and humans in Sundarbans. The Sundarbans Delta is the largest mangrove reserve on the face of the planet. This 20,000 square km area, straddling India and Bangladesh, is home to about four and a half million people, 600-odd Royal Bengal tigers and a very diverse wildlife. It is the most densely populated Tiger reserve in the world.With lack of electricity supply and complete lack of social security schemes, most of the villagers are pushed to make a living by fishing, prawn collecting, and honey collecting inside the Tiger reserve.
Every year around 100 people lose their lives to the tigers throughout the Sundarbans. On one hand the tiger population is decreasing and needs to be protected. Yet, on the other hand the people who are forced to make a living in the forest deserve to be safe as well.Recently the increasing deaths of fishermen by tiger attacks have led to killings of tigers by villagers in an attempt to protect themselves. Without some cogent action to bring a balance between the tigers and humans in Sundarbans, the conflict would end in a disaster.
The story shows the human side of the conflict through the fishermen and the villagers who lead their lives everyday thinking about the tigers and fearing an imminent loss in the fishing community. The presence of the Tigers is shown through these people that live in the Sundarbans.
Anxiety and fear fills the atmosphere around the fishing community in Sundarbans, before and after the fishermen leave for fishing trips into the jungle.The wives of the fishermen pray and wait with hope that their husbands return safely without getting attacked by a Tiger.
Bonobibi is the only goddess in the Sundarbans. People of all religion pray to Bonobibi before and after the fishing trips. Bonobibi means protector of the forest. In a mythological story, bonobibi saved a young boy from the tiger while he was working in the jungle. Every fishermen pray to bonobibi for protection against the tigers.
Bablu Mandal, a 34 year old fisherman and two of his friends are leaving for a 10 day long crab collecting journey into the forests of Sundarbans. Thedeeper they go into the forest the higher the earnings. And so are the chances of an encounter with a Tiger.
Niren Sarkar’s family. Niren Sarkar, a 55 yr old fisherman was killed 5 days earlier while fishing in the jungle. Sarkar has been a fisherman for the last 35years. Owing to the lack of jobs or any other social security schemes in the village, Sarkar’s sons are ready to continue fishing in the forest to support the family further on.
Even though the Tiger is a menace it is embedded in the local culture. The Tigers are believed to be the demon god named ‘Dokhin Rai’ and is worshipped by all the villagers.
Satish Sarkar, an 89-year-old fisherman started fishing at the age of 9 and has an experience of 70 years. “The Tiger came from nowhere and attacked me. I caught the neck of the Tiger and wrestled with it in the water for 20 minutes and I survived.”
Everyday thousands of groups of fishermen journey into the forest for fish and crabs. They spend every minute inside the forest with fear of being attacked by a tiger. If fear stops them, their family will have to sleep on an empty stomach. They have to feel the fear and fish in the jungle to feed the family.
These are 18 ‘tiger widows’(the women who’ve lost their husbands to a tiger) in the fishing community that consists of over 50 families at a place named Nieldomar. The youngest widow is 22years old. One woman lost her husband two months ago. These women are part of a struggling and unsuccesful selfhelp group run by an NGO that tries to help them to make ends meet. There are thousands of such widows and many such fishing communities through out the Sundarbans.
Shabut Malik, a 35 year fisherman was attacked by a Tiger few hours earlier while fishing in the jungle.
Ahmad Sheik explaining to his community members how the Tiger attacked Shabut Malik. He is Malik’s fishing group mate who attacked the Tiger with his oar to save Malik. In that fishing village named Gabura alone, 6 people were killed by Tigers in the last month. The villagers feel that the toll of thedead or injured has increased this year.
One day after Shabut Malik was attacked by a Tiger. Malik is safe now. However, he will not be able to do any work for the next few months. He feels hewill not be going into the forest for the rest of his life. He has 6 daughters to support and has no idea how he will manage their future.
Everyday many groups of fishermen journey into the forest for fish and crabs. They spend every minute inside the forest with fear of being attacked by the tiger. If fear stops them, their family will have to sleep on an empty stomach. They have to feel the fear and fish in the jungle to feed the family everyday.
“ The Tiger attacked Bapi Mandal and took him into the jungle in front of my eyes.” – Bapi Mandal’s group mate. Bapi Mandal, 30 years, was killed by a Tiger two days earlier while collecting crabs in the forest.
“I gave up studies in 1991-92. I have a fishing permit and I own a boat. Earning a livelihood here is almost an impossible task, very difficult. The way things are now, with the government making it difficult for us to cut trees for wood and the risk of getting attacked by tigers make me shiver, you don’t even want to think about it. I wish sometimes that I could get a job elsewhere, go and live there. But we don’t know anyone who could help us do that. My father was a fisherman his entire life and was never able to make enough to secure our future. We are five brothers and two sisters. We too are going in the same way, somehow managing to stay alive. This is how our life will always be like, I suppose.” – Bablu Mandal, brother of late Sushanth Mandal, the Tiger victim in the photograph.