Two communities demand seasonal rights under the Forest Rights Act to continue their centuries-old livelihoods inside a wildlife sanctuary in Gujarat |
IT IS a known fact that Gujarat’s Little Rann of Kutch is the only home left for the Asiatic Wild Ass. But not many know that it has also provided livelihood to two communities of shrimp and salt collectors for centuries. While the wild ass population flourished after the setting up of a sanctuary in 1972, the move has rendered the livelihood activities of the two communities illegal.
Worse, the communities have also failed to get respite under the Forest Rights Act (fra), 2006, which guarantees land rights to forest dwellers, because of the seasonal nature of their livelihood. The fishing community goes to the sanctuary during the rainy season and stays there for three to four months to collect shrimps. For the remaining year, the Agaria community, a nomadic tribe, uses the dried Kutch land for salt farming.
While the communities continue to frequent the sanctuary, they are subjected to harassment from the forest and government officers, and a local mafia, which thrives on forcefully buying the produce at low prices.
“I was 12 years old when I first accompanied my grandfather to the region. We stayed there for three months during the rainy season and collected shrimps,” recalls 52-year-old Akbar Gagga, a fisherman from Kajera village of Morbi district, which is on the southwestern tip of the triangular Little Rann of Kutch. He adds that his family has traditionally been collecting shrimps from
Women dry shrimps inside the Wild Ass Sanctuary at Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat. Over 800 fisherfolk families migrate to the sanctuary during the rainy season every year to collect shrimps PHOTOGRAPHS: JITENDRA