In the delta region of west Bengal there is one of the world’s last great mangrove forest—the Sundarbans. Three hours down-river is an outpost of civilization—Gosaba. The society remains relatively untouched by modern life, and thousands of villagers dwelling in settlements built in clearings in the forest earn their living fishing, wood-collecting, and honey-gathering. But in the woods, there still roam hundreds of man-eating tigers which strike and kill on a regular basis. Around 600 men have fallen prey to tigers in the last decade.
Arampur, or abode of rest, is a cluster of mud huts in the villa. In and around Arampur alone, there about 60 widows whose husbands have been killed by the Royal Bengal tigers that stalk the Sundarbans. A decade ago, the villagers renamed the village Vidhwapara—abode of widows…the tiger widows. Every day, as the fishing party leaves the village, the women wait and pray, unsure whether their men will return home. The party returns and if tragedy has hit, one member is dispatched to the victim’s house to break the news.
Vidhwaoara is just one of 300 villages within the jurisdiction of the Gosaba. What sets it apart, is that “while in other villages there are occupations like goat herding and paddy cultivation, here fishing is the sole means of livelihood.” That means that every man from the village must brave the jungles, spending 10 months per year fishing.
The families are of tiger victims are paid a compensation of Rs 5,000 by Project Tiger—the Central government organization designed to ensure the preservation of tigers in wildlife sanctuaries all over India. There are around 4,000 tigers roaming in the country’s sanctuaries—and about 260 are estimated to be in the Sundarbans. And the tiger population is only rising.
“In the areas where these tigers live, they are all man-eaters,” Anil Nath, a 70-year-old woodsman and deer hunter in the area, tells reporters.
The official estimate of the number of men falling prey to tigers in the area is between 25 and 30 each year, but unofficial estimates are much higher than that.