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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

On the trail of a tigress

‘Sherni’ shows the links between humans, animals and forests. It underlines how the linkages in the ecosystem are being threatened


July 5, 2021 7:15:01 pm
sherni amazon prime videoA poster of Vidya Balan stareer Sherni.

Written by Deeksha Dave

The film, Sherni, brings out various concerns related to wildlife conservation, which need thought and action. The narrative shows how the vested interest of politicians and apathy of the government officials is responsible for the degradation of forests, imperilling wildlife. The story revolves around the efforts to capture a distressed tigress. In the process, it throws light on the sorry state of affairs in the forest ecosystem.

The drying of waterholes due to the carelessness of the official in charge, depriving animals of water and forcing them to enter human habitat is not uncommon in the country. Habitat fragmentation and conversion of forests into patches of agricultural land too has become common. Mining and the proliferation of human settlements constrict the animal’s movement, and she becomes an ecological dislocate, who then becomes a threat to people in nearby villages.

Mandatory afforestation programmes in several parts of the country often mean plantations of eucalyptus, leaving no pasture for livestock owners to take their cattle for grazing. This not only creates additional pressure on the ecosystem (in the form of overgrazing) but also disturbs the ecology of an area, very often forcing both humans and animals to transgress into each other’s domains. Such conditions are ripe for poaching as Sherni shows.

The livelihoods of people living close to forests are dependent upon forest resources and they can’t survive if these resources are depleted or degraded. In the film, villagers raise their voices against the local administration and make it no known to them that they have no other option other than to graze their cattle in the forest. The plight of these herders throws light on the perils of unplanned and unsustainable development practices that upset the inter-linkages in nature.

Traditionally, forests have been protected by those living in the vicinity of nature. There is a strong need to revive this relationship and make efforts to include forest-dependent communities in mainstream decision-making. The skills of women in making baskets and other articles from bamboo are another indications of the ecology-economy link.

Sherni also introduces people to issues related to community participation in the conservation of forests and wildlife. At one point in the film, one of the characters says, “Sher hain to jungle hai, jungle hain to baarish hain, baarish hain to paani hain aur paani hai toh hum hain” (The survival of forest is dependent on the tiger’s existence. There can be no rain without the forest. Without rain there is no water. And, without water, no life) — a lovely introduction to the interconnectedness of natural phenomenon. At several other points in the film, people from local communities show their awareness of the ecosystem. But the film eschews romanticism – the links between communities, forests and wildlife are increasingly under stress. A college professor composes skits for the community that is gradually forgetting the importance of trees and biodiversity.

Sherni is about human kindness as much as it is about the apathy of those in powerful positions and the indifference of sections of the urban population. At another point in the film, for example, a domestic help rescues a kitten from a bigger cat beautifully. But the uninterested attitude of the family members and friends of the DFO show that conservation does not seem to strike a chord with sections of the people.

The film ends with the message that unless appropriate conservation measures are taken, wild animals will be confined to zoos and not found in their natural state. The makers of Sherni should be congratulated for trying to mainstream concerns that are usually expressed in niche circles.

The writer is Assistant Professor, Environmental Studies at the School of Inter Disciplinary and Trans Disciplinary Studies IGNOU, Delhi

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