Recent impasse over resettlement of Yobin tribe from the core as much as periphery of renowned Namdapha Tiger Reserve to another site is a vicious story of authorities’ failed planning, poor execution and dire inability to understand the sentiments of the locals that have history of symbiotic co-existence for generations together. Several rounds of discussions since 2009 involving local Singpho and Tangsa leaders hoping for an acceptable solution has been unsuccessfully conducted so far. Efforts by the Namdapha National Park authority to relocate the Yobin families occupying the core areas of the world acclaimed national park since many years has once again resulted in stalemate as settlers refused to budge.
Wounds of resettlement process, that started in 1960s right after the “Chowkan Pass Expedition of 1961”, from their original homeland in Dawodi (now called Vijaynagar) to newer locations like Gandhigram and other places to make space for former army personnel have created deep psychological insecurities amongst the Yobins. Therefore, it’s not difficult to understand where the Yobins’ stand is stemming from. Settling and unsettling every generation, forcing them to migrate every now and then is unfair to say the least when authorities have failed to provide them anything concrete including the basics in lives.
Post the expedition in 1961 by 7 Assam Rifles, the then NEFA government set up its first administrative post in 1962. As per material evidences, this tribe on South-Eastern tip of Arunachal on the edge of Indo-Burma border was counted during India’s Census Operation of 1961 and 1971 and was accorded all the political and economical facilities and benefits but they lost everything during the general election; right after the emergency in late 1970s when none of them were enrolled as electorates due to reasons best known to the political leaders of that period.
Thereafter, the establishment of Namdapha Tiger Reserve in 1983 hara-kiri on Yobin and their settlements: The only link road between Miao and Vijaynagar, better known as MV Road turned into porter track. Even the porter track through the reserve was objected to by the authorities. Till date, nearest circle headquarter to Vijaynagar is a foot-track of 6 days.
And that was the beginning of the marginalization process of Yobins.
With no road communication, it had cascading impact on other facilities like medical care, food and social security. Marginalized people are not considered to be a part of society. Consequently, after more than 30 years of marginalization, Yobins are nowhere. Along with material deprivation, marginalized individuals are also excluded from services, programs, and policies; marginalization has ensured poverty, psycho-emotional damage.
The school dropout rate due to lack of educational infrastructural facilities is more than 60% which is significantly high given the fact that denominator is a miniscule few thousands. In its effort to salvage the grim situation; little more than a 100 elders of the Yobin community are supporting couple of hundreds of young children out of a welfare camp in Miao, 157 miles from its original place Vijaynagar.
Therefore, turning a blind-eye to such challenges of a marginalized tribe to safeguard the tiger by the authorities of the Namdapha National Park is inhuman, to say the least. Also, over these years, blaming and singling out a particular community for decline in tigers in the reserve is a poor alibi to authorities’ failure when poaching is an international phenomenon with poachers maintaining no boundaries.
Reports show a drastic fall in tiger population. The Tiger Census conducted in 2006 suggested the presence of only four tigers in the reserve, a finding that was also confirmed by an expedition conducted at four zones by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) during November 2008 to February 2009. The numbers dwindled down to just one tiger sighting during the NTCA sponsored ‘Camera Trapping’ exercise in March-April 2012.
Reckon that almost a decade back in 2005, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest’s ‘Tiger Task Force’ (TTF) suggested that the Yobin community, one of the two communities other than Gorkhalis which are recent settlers, with their knowledge of the terrain and hunting expertise be used for protection of Namdapha Tiger Reserve. Suggestions on making them stakeholders in the conservation of the reserve failed to cut-ice amongst the bureaucracy in the state forest department that continued to treat the community, residing in the vicinity of the reserve, as interlopers. A view which was definitely not kindly accepted by the community as well as conservationists. As late as April 2012, certain sections of the Yobin community tried every means within its capacity to derail the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) sponsored camera trapping exercise. They not only stole cameras, but resorted to firing at the team, on three occasions, at Bulbulia and Kadboi areas.
Despite being seen as interlopers, a study conducted in areas around protected reserves in Nepal and India, has revealed that majority of people living around the vicinity have a positive attitude towards the existence and importance of Protected Areas (PA) but had negative perceptions of PA staff. A dialogue process which is empathetic in its outlook must be pursued so that an acceptable solution can be arrived at. If Namdapha National Park is to survive, then relocation is mandatory. This will not only be a test of strategy but authorities will have to rely on their persuasion skills as well.
What populations living around protected areas require is management strategies to balance conservation goals and livelihood needs. For conservation efforts to bear fruit, locally based strategies rather than centralized approaches must be adopted which are likely to be more effective.
Therefore, the state forest department must also introspect to zero in on possible loopholes or communication bottlenecks in order to present an amiable facade. Lest one forgets, today Yobins are like stateless people in many worldly senses. And worry today is not only about Yobins existence inside the reserve but it is about saving this dying tribe. In its most extreme form, marginalization can exterminate groups.