A post! A Post! Yup, when nudges become pushes and pushes turn to shoves, and one is forced to write, that is when the words finally tumble out. This is a small piece that got accepted in the Eastern Himalayas Newsletter (published from ATREE) in spite of its highly unconventional style. Since I have hardly posted anything about my work in Arunachal, this is probably just right for an introduction to my field site and work.
Also, I doubt anything longer than this would be able to hold anyone’s attention.
(Full Disclosure: All people, places and statements described below are completely non-fictional). Honest.
I met Mr. T on the road to Moying. He was in an overloaded Mahindra Pickup that belonged to the JP Group, a company that was building a hydro-electric plant up north towards Tuting, the last ‘town’ before the China border in Upper Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh. Mr. T worked for the JP Group. He was a Telugu from Andhra Pradesh. It is easier and less embarrassing to just call him Mister ‘T’.
I was walking towards Moying village from my study village Bomdo in Upper Siang. My village doesn’t have mobile connectivity, so occasional trips towards a ‘network point’ were necessary to assure people at home that I was still alive and well. Unfortunately, there was absolutely no local transport and the 22 km till the ‘network point’ would have to be covered on foot.
The sound of the vehicle was a welcome noise and I signaled for a lift. Five minutes later I was sitting inside the pickup answering a volley of questions from Mr. T. Predictably, he ranted on about the constant rain, lack of mobile connectivity, remoteness and excess of jungle! So, what was I doing here? He wanted to know. I told him I was studying wildlife in community managed forests among other things.
Mr. T was shocked. “Really? What was there to study? People here kill everything and eat everything. I haven’t seen a single bird here!”
That was my cue. I told him it was surprising he hadn’t seen a single bird while I had recorded more than 200 species in one year within the vicinity of the village. I told him there was evidence of almost 20 species of mammals and although I hadn’t been very fastidious in searching for butterflies, I still managed to record more than 50 species. These people who had supposedly ‘killed and eaten everything’ must surely be doing something right, if such an impressive assortment of wildlife still existed after all their exertions. I also told him that having stayed in the village for extended periods, I now knew that we city dwellers eat a lot more meat than them.
Mr. T’s views were not very different from a vast majority of people. However, the supreme irony lay in the fact that when it came to biodiversity loss, nothing could beat his own company and their mega dams across Arunachal.
As I contemplated how to break the bad news to him, Mr. T asked: “Can you get me two totas (parakeets)? I need some pets.”
Oh well. This was going to be more difficult than I thought.
The focus of my research is to understand patterns of village hunting in this remote Adi village and how it is affected by cultural, socioeconomic and institutional factors. The hope is that my study, and similar interdisciplinary studies, will begin to change preconceived notions about hunting and introduce greater room for debate on current policies that govern hunting.