Chikkalur Jathre 2016
'Chikkalur Jathre', an annual event, has seen many of the conflict of interest over the years. While the jathre itself is held outside the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, majority of the people take the route via the sanctuary to reach the jathre. Animal sacrifice, polluting the river (Cauvery), felling trees for firewood, cooking inside the forest, smoking, alcohol consumption are the challenges faced by the forest officials apart from containing the man-made forest fires. Man Vs Wild face offs are imminent dangers too.
For the past three years 'Vanodaya' volunteers have been collaborating with the forest officials in containing the situation and spreading awareness amongst the villagers for the need to protect green cover and encourage locals to take up the cudgels to protect the forest. Our sincere intentions and well documented approach over the years, has sowed enough confidence in the forest officials to welcome us with open arms.
On 26th January 2016, we set out from Bengaluru in the wee hours, assembled at Halagur Forest Office, to celebrate Republic Day with the Forest Department. After segregating into different groups, crossed over to various Check posts assigned to the group. This time around, we needed to man seven check posts. Apart from forest personnel and police officials, our 29 volunteers (including the local volunteers) were part of the seven groups to monitor the check posts. All the volunteers wholeheartedly, enthusiastically participated and in co-ordination with forest officials, successfully ensured any untoward incident. The jathre was held at Chikkalur between 22nd and 28th January 2016. 26th and 27th were key and important dates in view of animal sacrifice and ‘Badoota’. Our volunteers confined their activities to these two days.
The court order banning animal sacrifice, carrying liquor and smoking inside the forest area largely mitigated our efforts.
The challenge for the volunteers (including 6 women) was to deal with people of all sections – educated, less educated, those who knew about the restrictions and those who did not, from those with religious beliefs to those who had come to just celebrate. It was a daunting task considering the gregarious crowd had come for an escape from the daily routine.
It was a mind boggling exercise in the sun, to turn back people who had come with livestock, confiscate liquor, beedis, matches and cigarettes. The task was not only to enforce the law, but also create awareness among the villagers about the adverse effect of their activities on the biodiversity.
Some were disappointed when asked to turn back, some understood and a few even volunteered to standby for the cause. Some local bigwigs came into play and tried to throw in their weight to barge ahead. Few skirmishes apart, it was an extremely satisfying day out for the volunteers. Ashwin and Jagadish paved the way for the less experienced to learn all about dealing with people and conservation of forests. Patience was evidently the hallmark, spreading awareness on the one and putting our feet firmly when it mattered.
As a result the crowd has reduced considerably over the years. The threat of forest fires effectively mitigated. More and more local volunteers are showing enthusiasm to participate and protect.
Apart, few of us were lucky and excited with the sighting of elephant herd. Few saw a Leopard emerge from the dark and vanish. Slovenly monkeys were everywhere. Flock of cormorants flew past, a Hoopoe was feeding its little ones; an owlet came out around noon to bask in the Sun. The starry nights filled with serene silence and somewhere at the back, the sound of water could be heard amidst the chirping of birds and insects.
We also laud the labors of the forest officials and the police personnel. Ultimately, it was a well co-ordinated effort. Over the years these step by step approaches should pave way for banning movement of people through the sanctuary. The feedback from all the groups were collated at the end and documented for future needs.
In the end, as someone opined and all agreed, some ‘alilu seve’ to save our forest and a well contented one at that by “Vanodaya”.
We all talk of social justice and peace. Why exclude the wild? With the dwindling forest cover, it is time to leave them in their own haven, of what little remains, let them enjoy in peace. It is the least we should be doing as superiorly evolved. In the name of development, we have destroyed enough, enough to harm our own survival.
With the hope, in the coming years, Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary would be greener for the wild, we trudged back home to our daily tedium.