Good God, Ganesh!

The marauding elephants aren’t listening, but maybe Lord Ganesh will. Unable to fine a way to keep wild elephants away from their houses and crops, residents of the villages adjacent to the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary are seeking divine intervention, offering daily puja to the almighty. And who better to propitiate in such circumstances than Ganesh, the elephant-headed deity, and supposedly the most benevolent in the Hindu pantheon.
“Elephants damage our crops and houses every day,” said Anil Karmakari, a resident of the Duklungia Tea Estate near the park. “We are at our wit’s end. Only Ganesh can save us now.”
There are about 20 villages and tea estates that lie in the vicinity of the 19-sq-km Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary that girdles the Assam-Nagaland border in Jorhat district. Of late residents here have spend sleepless nights worrying about the fate of their flelds and homes as elephant herds move about in the area, destroying everything in their path. Though there have been only two casualties in as many years, the elephants have caused widespread damage in the the area. The local administration, however, is yet to put a figure to the damage caused so far.
According to the 1999 census, the sanctuary has an elephant population of 17. But figure keeps changing, depending on the migratory instincts of the herd. “The population varies from time to time because the entire herd does not stay in the sanctuary throughout the year,” divisional forest officer MN Duwarah said. “They migrate to the adjacent Nagaland hills but come back after some time.” Duwarah admitted that the herd had become a nuisance for the villagers in the vicinity of the sanctuary. He said his department had done everything possible to prevent the herd from transgressing into the villages, but without much success. “It may not sound good, but we have failed to end the menace, “ Duwarah said. The forest department, he said, had even “sealed “ the sanctuary with electric cables, only to have the elephants uproot the posts and make a mockery of the entire exercise. The harassed residents of the area also light fires and burst crackers to frighten the animals, but they have refused to budge. “We have been told that the elephants become more aggressive and come charging when they see people lighting fires or bursting crackers,” Duwarah said.
Shifting to new locations hasn’t helped either. Pal Munda of Katonibari Tea Estate in the area has rebuilt his hut 20 times during the past couple of years. “I have shifted from one place to another, but the elephants just won’t leave us alone, no matter where we go,” he says.
Like Karmakar and hundreds of other exasperated villagers, Pal hopes Lord Ganesh will do what the forest department couldn’t.

By Bijoy Shankar Handique (newsfiledelhi@hotmail.com)