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Himanshu Roy

IWB Blogger

ActionAidIndia On Why ‘Tiger Widows’ Of The Sunderbans Are Still Waiting For Justice

  • IWB Post
  •  July 24, 2019

The dense range of mangrove forests near the point where the Ganga meets the Bay of Bengal is also home to the national animal of India.

Generally known for the majestic tiger and rich flora and fauna in the area, not many people are aware of the fact that the lives of many women from villages near the Sunderbans turned uphill after they had lost their husbands to tiger attacks.

Restricted by lack of job opportunities and poverty, more than 3,000 women in the area are struggling for livelihood to fend for their families. Recently they have started a movement, demanding a relief amount of Rs. 10 lakh for each of them from the government along with a monthly pension which can help them greatly.

IWB chatted with the NGO ActionAidIndia, which is helping to raise the voice of these tiger widows of Sunderbans. Through the conversation we got a peek into their lives, plights and how even a little help would make great difference in their lives.

“Tiger widows don’t have any sustained source of income, depending largely on ad-hoc earning from informal wage labour, crab collection and petty business,” shares ActionAidIndia.

The sheer magnitude of the problem sinks in as we imagine how difficult it must be for these women who have the task to shoulder the entire burden of their family all alone, with zero support from the administration. Income from crab collection and working as daily wage labourers are far from consistent and in many instances there are months when the women are out of work.

We ask ActionAidIndia that why the problems of tiger widows have been invisible to the eye of the administration. Should bureaucracy and corruption be blamed for it? ActionAidIndia informs us that back in 2008, the state govt had issued a notice to all districts to form a widow cell and efforts in that direction are still ongoing.

Ironically, even after 11 years, those widow cells are yet to be operational and are still under the process of development, we are told. It’s not hard to imagine the incredibly tough circumstances in which these women are living throughout the past decade.

We try to know about any other additional efforts made to uplift the condition of the tiger widows of the Sunderbans. “The tiger widows are currently being collectivised so that they can be empowered to raise their own demands. They are listing their demands and meeting local level government officials,” says ActionAidIndia.

Often faced with bureaucrats and officials having little empathy about their condition, these women have been returned from many places where they thought they would get relief.

“Despite of all struggles in their life few of them have come forward to take leadership roles to amplify their voices, and all of them belong to the community of widows,” ActionAidIndia shares with visible pride and hope.

The remote location of the Sunderbans is also another point which has resulted in the stories of tiger widows coming to the public domain after a long delay. And, about the impact of caste hierarchies on this issue and whether it further aggravates the problem, ActionAidIndia tells us that more than caste hierarchies, the stigma attached to widows are very much visible, they are consider inauspicious/ unlucky. “Stigma attached to the widows restricts their mobility, acceptability within the community and society that also leads to deprivation,” we are informed.

It is about time that the government takes active measures to address the plight of tiger widows as by turning a blind eye to their problems, we are not only sentencing them to a life of misery but also endangering the future of their children, forcing the next generation to be underprivileged.

Thanks to the efforts of organisations such as ActionAid, we are reading their stories now, which shows that change in the status quo is possible and simply requires the efforts of a few good people.

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