Sunderbans (West Bengal): The Sunderbans are one of the world’s largest tiger habitats and over centuries, those living here, have shared the forest’s bounty with the tiger; for honey, firewood or fish and mud crabs.
No one dares to enter the forest without first having offered the prayers to Bonibibi, the goddess of the forest, in the hope that she will protect them against the man-eating tigers of the Sunderbans forest.
But now, conflict is brewing. Thanks to climate change, to escape rising sea levels, experts believe that the tigers are migrating northwards in large numbers.
“With rising waters the tigers are shifting northwards. And this is going to create problems,” says former field director of Sunderbans National Park Dr Sanyal.
A mask is actually a life saving device and it’s imperative that they wear it at the back of their heads because the tigers here are believed to never attack human beings from the front.
Traditional methods of protection against the tiger are less effective now. Bishwanath Tarafdar barely escaped the jaws of death. He fought off a tiger with his bare hands and lived to tell the tale.
“I was attacked and he stalked me till the tree. I cannot sleep at night, I’m so scared,” he says.
Local theatre shows how deeply the tiger is embedded in local psyche. But with the rising waters and more tigers migrating into human territory, whether people’s respect for the tiger continue, remains to be seen.
Call it folklore or a coping strategy but for these people it’s the only way to survive in a habitat where the tiger lifts at least 100 people every year.