Zero-sum wild gameConservation is important, but it definitely needs a moral compass that assesses the human cost too. Environment and people are not mutually exclusive.
Several months of investigation conducted by this paper in partnership with BuzzFeed News revealed a glaring truth: Human rights are blatantly violated inside Nepal’s conservations areas. So much so that it even included the death of a Tharu man in Chitwan in 2006. It also highlighted an often overlooked fact: Our discourse on conservation is utterly lopsided.
This is not to say that we are against conservation. Protecting the environment and endangered species is absolutely imperative. But more often than not, governments and environmental groups try to protect the environment at the cost of the people who live there, failing to take into account—or care—about the potential human cost of ecological preservation efforts. What’s more, the investigation also exposed the double standards of environmental agencies who claim to not tolerate any kind of brutality by its partners. But they have funded, equipped, trained and supported forces that have tortured, assaulted, and even murdered scores of people.
According to the report, Shikaram Chaudhary, a resident of Divyanagar village, was arrested by rangers from Chitwan National Park and driven to their detention centre in Kasara. The rangers had got a tip from a suspected poacher that Chaudhary had information about a rhino horn. A week later, an unconscious Shikaram was dropped at a local hospital in Chitwan at midnight. Two weeks later, he was pronounced dead. As the report mentions, this might have been an extreme case, but it is not an isolated incident.
Over the years, there have been numerous incidents of forest rangers and soldiers engaging in abuse and torture of members of indigenous groups who live around the protected area. For example, in 2010, three Dalit women including a minor were shot dead by army personnel in Bardia National Park. The local women had entered the park to collect the bark of kaulo trees.
And this kind of mistreatment is present everywhere, not just in Nepal. In the name of conservation, indigenous people are being ill-treated and abused. From Thailand, Camroon to Bangladesh—natives and their right to live in their ancenstral home has been compromised in the garb of conservation. Sure, protecting wildlife is necessary. But the way we do it, making room for it along with tourism and industry, governments and other environmental agencies seem to be using conservation as a pretext to rout out marginalised and vulnerable people away from their lands and livelihoods. Therefore, the binary ‘conservation v people’ approach to safeguarding wildlife has made difficult the lives of thousands of native people worldwide.
Billions of rupees are being poured into protected areas. In spite of legally binding commitments to respect people’s rights, it is evident from Shikaram’s case that local indigenous and local communities continue to pay a heavy price for protected areas. Conservation is important, but it definitely needs a moral compass that assesses the human cost too. Environment and people are not mutually exclusive. It is not one or the other. Rather, they are mutually inclusive where the two need to co-exist.