| A tongi atop a tree. Picture by Kishore Talukdar |
Borjhar, Sept. 13: Farmers in villages along the Assam-Meghalaya border in South Kamrup are burning the midnight oil on makeshift shelters atop trees, called tongis, to guard against marauding elephants.
Herds of wild elephants usually descend on the paddy fields from the surrounding hills during the night and damage crops. Fed up with “unheard” appeals for protection of life and property, a section of villagers have taken up the onus of keeping vigil and now stay awake atop the tongis made of bamboo and hay.
“Armed” with mosquito nets, torches and crackers, they attempt to scare away the jumbos with light and sound. “We make a hue and cry as the animals come near our tongis, following which we light our torches (made of bamboo). The sound generated by our shouts and crackers helps to drive the herd away,” Lohit Rabha, 40, of Gutipathar said.
Over a thousand tongis have been put up across paddy fields in villages of Nalapara, Gutipathar, Challi, Garopara, Chesa, Khopdia, Sangalu Rabha and Rajapara, among others.
However, with the elephants still on the rampage as they migrate to the plains, the farmers want a permanent solution to the “crisis” that is taking a toll on their lone source of sustenance.
Recently, the residents of 10 villages organised a meeting at Nalapara, a border village, to find solutions to get rid of the marauding herd. The farmers said they would stage a democratic protest if the forest department fails to take action soon. “We have appealed to the forest department for cooperation and the onus now lies with it to help us tide over this seasonal menace or we would be forced to stage a protest,” said farmer Dinesh Das.
There is a significant population of elephants along the inter-state habitat (6,850 square km), which covers Kamrup and Goalpara districts in Assam and Ri Bhoi, West Khasi Hills, East Garo Hills, West Garo Hills and South Garo Hills districts in Meghalaya.
The problem of elephant depredation has assumed gigantic proportions since the elephant population now stands at 5,620.
Asked about the measures taken to tackle the crop raiders, Amal Sarma, divisional forest officer of East Kamrup forest division, said the department had roped in two kunkis (domesticated elephants) in August to drive away the wild jumbos. “In the hour of need, the kunkis will be pressed into service,” Sarma said.