By Sourav Roy
Many in India worship Sherawali Mata or Durga, the divine "Mother Goddess" who comes mounted on a tiger, making the king of the jungle the chosen vehicle of one of India's most powerful and revered religious deities. An equal number, also worship her husband, Shiva, one of the three commanding gods of the Hindu trinity, and one who meditates sitting on a tiger skin.
Clearly, between the husband-wife divine duo, the tiger is the common connotation of power. While one rides it into the battlefields, symbolizing her vanquishing power and infallibility, the other either sits on its skin or wears it, denoting his control over all worldly affairs.
It would then be obvious to assume that the eminence of tiger in India would be of epic proportions and the majestic cat would be revered within the country as much as its countless temples.
But alas, the tiger in India is only safe as long as its been ridden on by the goddess in fables and folklore. For in the wild, it runs the phenomenal risk of being poached and mutilated for the trade of its skin and body parts. Ironically, the iconic representation of immortal power and might is itself begging for some divine intervention now.
According to the Wildlife Protection Society of India, 2013 saw 39 tigers poached in India, the highest ever in seven years. The Times of India, reported that poachers in India killed 101 tigers across 17 states since 2008, citing proximity of human settlements to tiger habitats as the main reason for the rapid increase in poaching.
The southern-Indian state of Karnataka lost more tigers to poachers than anywhere else in the country. The Ministry of Environment and Forests of the state of Karnataka stated that there were about 762 villages with 48,549 families in the core/critical tiger habitats across India of which 101 such villages were in Karnataka.
However, even the numbers quoted above are disputed by conservation activists as many claim that a good number of poaching cases go unreported or are hushed up due to complicity of conniving officials.
"Our law enforcement is a joke and we all know that even the pettiest of the crimes in India are committed with the consent of colluding officers. What do you think, they'll let go off the lucrative tiger trade so easily?," questions tiger activist Ramesh (name changed due to safety reasons) who works for a wildlife watchdog.
"Just look at these rangers protecting the tigers. They are ill-equipped, under-paid, have no life or health insurance, handicapped in the absence of a strong intelligence gathering network and are often armed with obsolete weapons that are no match for the automatic weapons that poachers use. To make matters worse, some of them are involved in the trade and the laws around tiger poaching and the trade of tiger parts is absurdly weak and full of loopholes. How do you expect the situation to come under control, then?," adds Ramesh. More....