Activists want the world’s movie-going public to know that the Baiga and Gond people of India were evicted from their territory-an area that was the inspiration for the original The Jungle Book- to make way for tourism in tiger reserves, and that more forced evictions are coming.
In 2014, the Baiga and Gond people were forced out of the Khana Tiger Reserves which was the place that inspired Rudyard Kipling to write his famous novel that has been made into a movie again.
Khana officials have advertised the reserves as being the inspiration for The Jungle Book and they encourage more tourism for the reason that “nowhere can you see [tigers] more often.” However, activists are pointing out that few fans of the movie and the book know about violence perpetrated against tribal people for the sake of tiger conservation in the famous setting.
Indian authorities said that they are “relocating” communities to protect the tigers but according to activists, the removals were not legal and that the absence of people does not help the tigers.
According to the tribal advocacy organization, Survival International (SI), India’s Forest Department claims that the tribes accepted “voluntary relocation” but further investigations revealed that the authorities coerced the tribes with either bribes or threats of violence if they did not leave their home territory in Khana.
“Some are moved to government resettlement camps, but others are simply pushed out and forced to live in abject poverty on the edges of their territory,” according to the SI press statement.
SI reported that one Baiga man told them, “We were one of the last families to resist. But the people from the reserve forced us to leave. They told us they’d take care of us for three years, but they didn’t do a thing. Even when my brother was killed, no one came to help us.”
The Forest Department and Indian authorities have asserted that the Baiga and Gond tribes had to leave for the sake of the tigers but SI researchers have found no evidence that the evictions protect tigers.
SI and other activists are hoping that The Jungle Book movie opening April 15 will bring international pressure on India to halt the evictions.
“We hope that this film helps bring some attention to the suffering currently being inflicted on tribal people across India in the name of tiger conservation,” said SI Director Stephen Corry.
“When India’s tiger population crashed in the last century it had nothing to do with tribes. It happened thanks to rapid industrialization and the wholesale slaughter carried out by colonial hunters and Indian elites. Yet all over India, tribes are paying the price for this: They’re kicked off their ancestral land to be replaced by tourists in their thousands.”