Category Archives: hill people

Tiger trail

When i was in school, which was really long ago, i’d read the book by Jim Corbett on the tigers. His description upon seeing a tiger was what i had kept in my mind always. To hope i too see a tiger in it’e eyes when IF & when do see one. June 3 -7, i was on way to Tadoba tiger reserve… forest in Chandrapur. It was sheer determination, I wanted to see real tigers yet again before they become extinct. Unlike other tiger reserves, Tadoba has NO forced sighting of tiger. It’s sheer luck, by chance….

I was determined to go under any circumstances. I was fed up on my job, my work profile & fed up of petty politics. Instead of whining & complaining i thought, yes let me see beyond humans. I’ve always loved a tiger & tried to trail wherever, like in Chitwan when i went way back in the early 90s. So here i was alone exploring, just with a gut feeling i WILL see a tiger.

My aai, (mother) was hell bent on not letting me go, just for the records the temperatures in this area were varying between 48-50 degs. Deaths of people, monkeys, other animals were reported from Vidarbha region. This was my chosen destination. I packed 8 bottles of nimbooz-ready made lemon juice available, electral, 20 bottles of water. My bag nearly bogged down my shoulders wt the sheer weight of these bottles. All for the tiger.

My start to the journey was hilarious. After a mix up of train timings my friend told me i had only 45 mins to reach the VT station. I hate uncertainities, i plan travel rather tediously, well in time before departure. This was rush, rush. Reached in time for Nagpur train. My friend & colleague Jaideep one fo the finest reporters in young Vidarbha region. He arranged everything for me…i took a car & left for chandrapur, however the forest officials had just left back for nagpur. It was merry go round for me going fm pillar to post to get inside. Finally i made it to the forest fm Kuthvanda gate. Now ONLY at Tadoba have they divided the number of vehicles across the 5 gates. But the problem is vehicles that need to be allowed should be only gypsies. However public use all their political clout, access to officials & ministers & then they all come in their own petrol/diesel vehicles.

The first eve was doomed. Everyday on every trip i spent Rs 1500/- nearly. I didn’t ask the officials to take me in their vehicles, because that would mean it wasn’t seeing by chance. Till then i saw NO tiger…but what a terrain! Parched, dry, pinching my insides. Skin felt torn, head splitting wt the heat. I kept sipping water. Thankfully visiting a forest is no mean task. It also means getting to see innumerable birds & animals that we otherwise can’t. So while the tiger was away the monkeys, bulls, deers of all varieties, birds were at play.

On 2nd day early morn was a monkey show ONLY for me. i told the official they have to let me in their vehicle. I saw 5 youth wt cameras. I smelt a rat. I too had professional cameras, not a single but 2 cameras. He was trying to postpone my visit, the field officer & i realised if i let go of that chance i’d never get it again. Unfortunately for that officer, he was calling out to those 5 youth, while the gypsy owner signalled me. He said the officer was calling me, i went ahead & finally my friend Jaideep called. I told him the whole story & he was like just go ahead.

The officer asked me to sit rt inside in the gypsy. I said no, im a lady i can’t get squashed between all the men. Honestly it wasn’t a excuse. When realised there were 5 men, i made immediate calculations & realised that i’d NOT get any chance to click a single pic. They trouped in & i shoved them inside in the back seat.

Finally we went to the water hole, where grandly sat a tigress wt her 2 cubs…she gave us ferocious looks for a few seconds, then when the jeep was turned off, she sat quietly keeping a watchful eye over her cubs. These were one & a half yrs old. They looked fully grown. They were awesome. By then, i’d forgotten all about my thirst, immense heat & blistering sun. It all got eclipsed in a fraction of a second. I recently told a friend that i was headed to the jungle to meet my 1st love, the tiger. Truly i think i love this animal more than anything else.

The cubs were happy soaked till their necks in the water. Believe me if we humans find 48 degs & humidity that day was over 65% hot, then it’s twice more for those animals. I was stunned by their beauty. We moved reverse, came closer when i got a better view & then one cub got up fm the water to give me that ‘tiger’ look. That cub was signalling me that ‘look don’t forget i’m a tiger!’ then he went towards the mother to climb over her & play wt her. The tigress was just too watchful keeping an eye over her other 2 cubs.

We came out i wanted to dance around like the bhalu to express my immense happiness. But more was to come, which i didn’t know. By then i was relaxed, i’d got something that most don’t easily get. Yet i felt the Jim Corbett experience had eluded me. By then I’d happily seen 8-10 varieties of deer species, bisons, plenty of birds, peacocks, bear that ran amok right up til the gate, monkeys, especially the black faced ones, the langoors. So on & so forth.

The officials had booked me in the director’s room at the rest house. It overlooked the lake at Kolsa. It was truly beautiful but everything was hot. Even the ground was hot that day, it was immensely sultry as there had been few showers inside Moharli gate & village. Next day early morn i reached Kolsa gate & the guide Rajesh took me around. Around 10.15am there was a buzz among drivers & vehicles that a tigress had sat in numb 2 water hole when she heard a vehicle & had gone inside the jungle. We waited there. Thankfully one professional group of wildlife specialists were there. They were keen enthusiasts who could shut up loud public, noisy vehicles and abso listless public that had no idea about dos & don’ts of a jungle.

We stuck behind their vehicle. We sat watching as every minute in that heat seemed as if i was in the middle of a lava, or crater. The heat was killing. On top of that i had climbed out & sat on the window after rolling down the glass. I kept both the cameras handy the manual & digital. That tigress was a treat to the eyes! to say the least. She walked stealthily popped her head out, looked around & went right back. She must’ve really got pissed off by the human beings. But its summer time, the tigers & bisons can’t stay out of the water for long.

It was then i recollected Jim Corbett’s words. All that i had read came to my mind. Jungle & especially tiger trail teaches one a lot. Mainly being patience. I had all the time in my life I’d come for this purpose ONLY. The public in other vehicles was getting impatient. I tell you we city people should be disallowed from jungles if we can’t behave ourselves. Then the professional foursome hushed everyone. They told me, ‘These are sarcastic bastards who want to tease the tigers.’ it’s true to a large extent. Then madam tigress came halfway out. I was dumbfounded, absolutely silenced. I only wanted to see her. My first instinctive action was not to rush for the camera, instead i remember saying, “Wow! she’s gorgeous.” If the US army has a weapon called stealth bomber, its a name abso apt for the tigress. She moved with such conviction, majestically she commanded attention & yet so agile, silent, its amaZing.

She went around from behind the water hole she moved in, keeping an eye on us all. Then the profnals requested all cars to wait for at least 10 m
ins silently. Just then one jerk’s car wt automatic lock made some sound. His defense was, “what can i do?” He drove right behind us disturbing the tigress. She was losing patience. Predators are of cat family & they like their space. They need to be left alone, i believe in it & follow the same attitude. My mother always says ‘Neeta you must’ve been a cat in your previous birth.” she thinks i’m vv cat like.

Then the jerk behind us honked & that was it, another impatient bimbo put his gypsy in motion. They tried to blame my driver for the noise, but all knew it wasn’t us. The tigress had had enough of us humans & went inside the jungle. By the time we went to th rest house in a huff the guard told me he had taken action on the guide & fined the vehicle for breaching the rules. Those tourists left in i give a shit.

Our guide was one great human. He knew his jungle well. He told me “Madam you come by 2.45pm sharp at the gate, we will go inside. I guarantee you the tigress will be at the water hole.” We saw many birds & animals, including mountain rat, Ghorpad. Yes, same one fm Shivaji’s story days. We went on water hole trail & there she sat inside the pond. She sensed us, in few secs got up quietly & went inside. I got her pics. Then she looked harassed by humans, sounds & more so the heat. She was thirsty & wanted to cool off. So we waited patiently at a distance. This was abso EXCLUSIVE. Tigress sat wt her head down abt to sleep. Then came trail of pvt vehicles. Their car nearly fell on one side as the elders, kids squealed loudly…look tiger tiger..kuthe…toh bagh..tithe…it was like a zoo. The tigress surely must’ve thought we are all from some zoo. stupid, ridiculous the whole atmosphere was.

Then word spread around that we were the only ones to see the tigress. suddenly all & sundry came to ask when next will we see a tiger, was it male, female. blah blah. We had our show. We were fed up & we had had our fill. Meanwhile Anil driver & rajesh guide got into a competition to tell me whose luck had rubbed off on me. I was like i’m really lucky to have 2 people’s luck rub off on me!

I know one thing for sure, this is one majestic animal, tiger/tigress & i had a dream that i’d see it walk past me. It happened. It was magical, i have no words to describe that ultimate pleasure.

Thai government changes its approach to the stateless

Thai government changes its approach to the stateless
Neeta Kolhatkar
Wednesday, May 20, 2009 21:01 IST

Bangkok: Boon is a 44-year-old, barefoot lawyer who heads the human rights clinic in Mei Aai district, Northern province of Chaing Rai in Thailand. Aided by UNICEF, she visits villages and district authorities to pursue the cause of stateless people in the country.
Neeta Kolhatkar / DNA
Nasoh is a 12-year-old student, born in Chai Sen. Her parents are Thai, but hold a pink card

Boon herself is a victim of the stateless problem. She was 22 when she learnt that although she was born and lived in Thailand, she had no nationality. “My mother missed the census and although she is Thai by birth, I am not a citizen. In 2002, some of my relatives got Thai citizenship. I got an identity card and then realised I was not a citizen of this country,” Boon says.

Boon began making enquiries with district-level authorities, who told her she needed to prove she was a Thai national. “I was frustrated with the system but I did not get bogged down. Instead, I decided to take this up as a challenge. I studied law and began to pursue my citizenship,” she says.

She went to her birthplace and spoke to relatives, a midwife, neighbours and relatives who had witnessed her birth. She drew a family tree of those relatives who had received Thai nationality, and was helped by professor Phunthip Sasoonthorn, faculty of law, Thammasat University, lawyers and UNICEF. “They took DNA samples from me and my relatives. The cost was exorbitant, but finally, my case was admitted in court and I won it,” says a beaming Boon.

Human Rights Clinic has paid for the families of two of us and it came to nearly 80,000Bahts because of the distance between the relatives.

After 2006, 1,243 applicants could be admitted. There are more than 100 students and a total of 3,000 people who have applied for citizenship. Till now, 100 of them have received Thai nationality.

Apart from Boon, others, like Panee Sukom, 25, are suffering despite being the children of Thai nationals. Sukom’s mother came to Thailand from Myanmar over four decades ago; Sukom was born before 1992, and under Thai law, that makes her eligible for citizenship. But her civil registration certificate says she was born in Burma, while her birth certificate says she was born in Thailand.

“In my case it is the local officer who made a mistake in my civil registration. I don’t know if it was deliberate, because my mother is illiterate and could not read it at the time and correct it on the spot,” Sukom says. Today, she is married to a Thai man, has a child who is a Thai national, but still has a long fight ahead.

“The fact is, not having Thai nationality or citizenship means one is deprived of all rights. I get no voting rights, I can’t own land or a house,” says a sad Sukom.

Nasoh, a 12-year-old student, was born in Chai Sen. Her parents are Thai but hold a pink card. When the refugee problem escalated, the Thai government came out with a proposal to give refugee cards to Burmese migrants. Nasoh’s parents took the card with the hope that they would get benefits, not realising that their citizenship would be nullified.

“My parents took it because they could not read. They thought the pink card was free and would give them some benefits, but it changed our status completely. Today we have zero status,” says Nasoh.

Her parents gave her up for adoption to her aunt and uncle, who were childless and who notified her as their daughter. However, last year, when volunteers came to tell her of her status, Nasoh realised she had zero none. “I began to feel different from others the minute I realised I was not a Thai national. In class, nobody treats me badly or excludes me, but I feel odd about this whole experience.”

The fact is, the Thai government has been trying to address this issue based on the national security concern. The Thai national human rights commission, civil society organisations and academicians have pressured the government into seeing this with a humanitarian approach. In the last three years, three acts – the Immigration Act, the Nationality Act and the Civil Registration Act – have been amended to solve this problem.

“The stateless people’s issue is of concern to the government because they see it as being related to national security. This is the mainstream, conventional way of seeing things,” says Dr Amara Pongsapich, anthropologist with Chulalongkorn University.
The shift in this approach, Amara says, came when the sub-commission roped in academicians and human rights groups. However, victims face problems at the district level because officials are not accustomed to the human-rights approach.

“A paradigm shift was pushed by civil society and academicians. However, district officers who work on this issue are caught in a dilemma – whether to follow the law to the letter, or be humanitarian. They don’t have an open mind about human rights. Although information has been passed down regarding the amendments to the law, they seem reluctant to implement them,” Amara says.

The government Human Rights Commission says one of the biggest hurdles is making other departments and ministries understand the human security issue and help them shed their traditional roles as security officials.

“We are not only the implementing agency, but the monitoring agency as well. Cabinet ministers take our views and reports seriously. It is not easy at the district level,” says Ekachai Pinkaew, a senior officer of the Human Rights Commission. “On the other hand, it is equally hard working with other ministries. I have to convince and negotiate with the military and immigration officers. We need their support but this is a typical characteristic of the bureaucracy,” Pinkaew adds.

An important development this week was that the Human Rights Commission could get the approval of the National Health Commission to pass the right to health for stateless people. “Ministers are open to new ideas; this week, we discussed the right to health for stateless people as it has already been passed by the National Health Committee. It will soon be passed in Parliament,” Pinkaew adds.