Call it a successful awareness campaign by the forest department, the hunting festival of tribals began and ended without much bloodshed today, perhaps for the first time in years.
Compared to 2,000-odd hunters last year, Sendra this time saw a little more than 200 tribals trooping to the Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary. Forest officials, however, confirmed the killing of a crow and a barking deer.
Divisional forest officer, Dalma range, Siddhartha Tripathi said the low turnout of tribal hunters was a major achievement for the department. "About 216 hunters went to the forest this time against 25,000 even a couple of years ago. We had launched a poster war on killing of wild animals, distributed pamphlets and conducted rallies. All this has borne fruit," he said.
On the killings near Haludbani, Tripathi said forest guards went to the spot and took the carcass into custody. "Every year, dozens of deer, wild boars, peacocks, sloth bears, squirrels and rabbits, besides birds, are killed. It is an achievement to have brought down the toll to two. The carcass of the deer has been seized," he said.
Shankar Soren, a tribal hunter, however, hinted at divine intervention.
"We sighted a deer, but our group failed to encircle the prey. It escaped," he said visibly upset.
Tribal veterans and officials of the Dalma Buru Sendra Samiti pointed out that the festival of Sendra was also witnessing changes. Not many follow the actual ritual of killing any longer, they said. "Tradition demands hunting barefoot, but most young people enter forests wearing shoes. Hunting calls for great physical strength and, so, these days many groups take a ride on vehicles instead of walking. Every ritual, every culture changes with time. However, we will not accept change by force," said Samiti adviser Chote Hembrom.
The forest department apparently scored a point here. It resorted to appeals instead of force to keep the hunters at bay. Tripathi said their main aim was to spread awareness among tribals with little help from village eco committees in and around Dalma.
Besides posters and pamphlets, the day also saw archery competitions in Kanderbera, Kudlung, Deoghar, Jhariadih and Tuila villages. What was another desperate attempt by the forest department to prevent hunting of wild animals received a good response.
About 150 people participated in the contest. "This is the first time I am taking part in an archery contest. I have always used my bow and arrow during Sendra. I started participating in the festival when I was 10. The prize was a fare of chicken," said Singhrai Soren of Kanderbera.
Soren said many tribals now preferred "symbolic" Sendra. "We enter the forest in the morning and feast on the prize — chicken or lamb — that is won in an archery contest," he said
Telegraph / 2009 May 4
Sendra or not? The question has come up just four days before the tribals of four states start their daylong traditional hunting ritual in the Dalma.
While the Dalma Buru Sendra Samiti claimed that the festival would be organised according to the tribal rituals, the forest department officials have called a high-level meeting on May 2 to chalk out strategies to prevent tribals from killing wild animals during the festival.
Apart from samiti members, tribal leaders and eco-club members, top-level forest officials would take part at the meeting, which aims to draw a strategy to prevent hunting.
"The meeting aims to ensure that no hunting takes places during Sendra. We will try to convince the tribal leaders on need to protect wild animals," said Dalma ranger officer Sushil Oraon.
He also claimed that the forest department had made a successful attempt in spreading awareness among the villagers around Dalma sanctuary. The eco-development committee in 82 forest villages in and around Dalma also took part in the awareness drive.
The forest department proposes to make adequate security arrangements in Dalma wildlife sanctuary on proposed Sendra dates. According to officials, they would ensure that not a single wild animal is killed this year in name of Sendra.
However, the tribals have declared not to stop their age-old ritual. "Invitation for Sendra has been dispatched to tribals residing in Jharkhand, Orissa, Bengal and Chhattisgarh. According to the plan, tribals from the four states would assemble at the foothills of Dalma on May 3. The next day they would enter the sanctuary for hunting," said Demka Soy, a member of the samiti.
He maintained that since Sendra was an annual festival of tribals, it should be allowed. The samiti members claimed that there was no law in the country that bans Sendra and they wanted to avoid any confrontation with the forest department. "The week-long festival starts with worshipping of deities, ancestors, traditional weapons and culminates with Sendra, which brings to the fore the manhood of the male members of the community. Hunting is only a part of the festival and should not be misunderstood," added Soy.
Telegraph / 2009 May 1