(Editorial - April 2014 issue of the Protected Area Update)
Sansar Chand, known as the most notorious wildlife poacher and smuggler in the country, died recently in Jaipur due to lung cancer and related ailments. He had been taken to Alwar from Delhi in connection with a case related to the killing of tigers in Sariska TR and was shifted to Jaipur when he developed some health complications.
He was, perhaps, the most hated and despised man in India’s wildlife and conservation community and understandably, there is a collective feeling of relief and even jubilation. It’s been very visible, for instance, in the world of social media. While the strong emotion might be understandable it is a moot point whether we fully understood Sansar Chand’s larger connections and contexts. While there may be no doubt that he operated with unmatched audacity and impunity, little is known or understood of the larger eco-system that he worked within.
It is obvious that he could not have operated if he did not have support from multiple sources – a network of people in the communities in and around forests; those in positions of authority and power who were willing to co-operate (perhaps for money) and a legal system that is slow and inefficient. But this is not all – there are also issues of the history and cultures of communities that continue hunting in the wild; issues of society, politics and attitudes in relation to many of these communities that are branded criminal communities; issues related to the overall socio-economic agendas of the country and its policies; the criminal justice system and the unabated demand for wildlife goods in national and international markets.
These, obviously, are much easier to write about, than to actually deal with in the field and that is precisely the point. Any individual will have to take responsibility and be accountable for the choices he or she makes but we cannot stop just there. Unless we get a better handle on the larger dynamics, our focus will remain on the individuals who are the tips of the iceberg - the symptoms and not the cause of the issues that we seek to address. An efficient legal system could have kept Sansar Chand in jail for longer or he might have been felled, much earlier, by a forester’s (or a policeman’s) bullet. He was eventually taken away by cancer because like any other individual, he was mortal. He had to go - this way or that.
The same, however, cannot be said of the challenges that Sansar Chand came to epitomize – these are more than evident to anyone who cares about wildlife conservation in this country. They are all around us and these are certainly not the creation of one single Sansar Chand.