Ecofeminism is a reality since long: Anshu Pragyan Das

by Subhra Kar
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Be it working beyond duty hours or dealing with issues like forest fire and man-animal conflict or staying away from family amid forest landscape with wildlife, portraying a woman in such a scenario is hardly ever thought of. However, Ms. Anshu Pragyan Das, who is currently posted as the Divisional Forest Officer, Hirakud Wildlife Division at Sambalpur and Bargarh Districts of Odisha, has smashed the stereotype that ‘Wildlife Conservation is not a Woman’s cup of tea’.

“Beyond conventional wisdom we should work for achieving our goal,” making this her success mantra, the dynamic lady forest officer, during her illustrious career of 15 years so far in different capacities at Similipal Tiger Reserve, Satkosia Tiger Reserve, State Ecotourism and now at Debrigarh, has taken up several pioneering and reforming movements.
From, Badmul Eco-tourism project at Nayagarh District, Eco-village at Satkosia to Massive relocation and the first Birds Village at Debrigarh, Das is a trailblazer of several unconventional movements benefitting the forest dependent communities in wildlife areas.

Ms. Anshu Pragyan Das, who is also an author, photographer, birder has been conferred with the Prestigious “Earth Heroes Award 2020 by NatwestIndia for her dedicated work in the field of Wildlife Conservation & Ecotourism and is listed among one of the Ten Heroes of Sustainability’ 2020 selected by Better-India across India. The women achiever has added several feathers to her cap including Devi Awards 2020, FICCI Women’s Award 2021, Times Power Womens Award-2021 and many others.

She is the architect of innovative programmes in Ecotourism like poachers- turned-protectors and Spider Talk and is also a visiting faculty of Wildlife Conservation & Ecotourism at different academic and training institution.

We had the pleasure to have a one on one interaction with Ms. Das about her odyssey in the field of wildlife conservation and get a glimpse of her life beyond her profession.

A woman in the field of wildlife conservation is not something we come across usually. Do women face more challenges than men working in this field? What are your views?

Wildlife ecology used to be a man dominated profession, until recently more number of women are found to be a part of this. It is my personal experience that women frontline officers are more acceptable by the local community, for both joint forest management and protection. I believe Women and Nature are empirically connected and Ecofeminism is a reality since long. But, in field, while executing our duties, both men and women face same challenges and pressure. Perseverance is always the answer to mitigate challenges and conflict resolution and it depends on the individual how best one can resolve problems, it is independent of gender.

Which part of your work excites you the most even today, after 15 years in this field?

I have worked earlier for long time at Satkosia Tiger Reserve and as Nodal Officer, Ecotourism before my stint at Debrigarh. Working in wildlife sector has provided me the opportunities to work in remote places of Odisha, close to nature and people. It is the greatest joy in my life. Wildlife conservation is an extremely demanding profession which requires adaptability and resilience, opportunities to interact with people and also to inspire our next generation. Besides, this field of conservation has given me the opportunity to write and recreate, photograph the beauty of nature, walk or a hike and relax in nature with a book without network.

How do people and wildlife live together in one landscape? What approach do you feel is needed to bring about the balance between human and wildlife?

In Odisha, 5% of the land is protected for wildlife and protected areas are like an island surrounded by human habitations for which dispersal of wildlife outside their boundary is inevitable. This results in crop damage and other human-animal conflicts outside protected areas. As such human dominated wildlife habitats are prone to habitat fragmentation, negative interactions, fire, poaching, poisoning, electrocution, etc.

Timely compensation to farmers and livestock owners, awareness generation, and community mobilization bring a sustainable future. The challenge remains to find creative solution in park management as well as building of tolerance towards wildlife conservation among the people adjoining protected areas. Continuous confidence building with local communities will bridge the gap between government officials and locals, transparency and timely completion of work is the solution.

It must be hell of a task to relocate over 400 families from inside a sanctuary where they have dwelled for decades. Can you share your experiences of village relocation from Debrigarh Sanctuary, largest relocation taken up in a small span of time in the western most part of Odisha?

Management strategies varies from one landscape to another but relocation of villages from wildlife habitat is very crucial and is win-win for both people and animals. Relocation is not easily acceptable by locals as they share deep bonding with the place where they have lived since generations. We therefore at Debrigarh focused on people driven relocation so that relocation and wildlife conservation both can garner public support in future. Relocated sites inside wildlife habitats greatly improve wildlife densitities, provide undisturbed inviolate refuge for breeding of wide-ranging animals especially big cats and supports long term survival. On the other hand resettlement of villages from Debrigarh has led to better socioeconomic status for the relocated communities. At Debrigarh we could restore more than 520 hectares of wildlife habitat where meadow development is under progress. Out of four villages relocated three were shifted from the amphiterresterial habitat which is very crucial for the wild animals.

Initially the villagers were negative and apprehensive. But we conducted more than 280 meetings for building confidence, separate meetings with different class of people and different stakeholders involved in this process. The massive relocation at Debrigarh brought joy and happiness among the people there. I thank the whole team of Hirakud Wildlife Division, Bargarh District Administration, Public representatives, and media for their support in execution of these big task smoothly and within time. Transparency and confidence of the people was our top priority. I also extend my heartfelt thanks to my family who supported my work though I could not give them time during this work.

 

What are new chapters added to it while your stint at Debrigarh ? And what are the new plans on Debrigarh ?

It is important that we should push our self outside our boundary to explore new possibilities but to never forget where we belong. Of course working for Odisha Ecotourism was the most satisfactory team work in which we could bring conservation and community together on one platform. Working at Satkosia will be the most memorable period of my life. So also working at Debrigarh.

The success record of ecotourism and launching of innovative ecotourism packages also has benefited Debrigarh immensely. Few major innovative works are under progress including, “Birds village” at Govindpur and transformation of two villages adjoining Debrigarh into “Green Village” besides Barabakhra Pilgrimage site which is the first Veer Surendra Sai memorial of Western Odisha with relief sculpture on Debrigarh in it and depiction of his life history is ready to come up. Moreover, creation of “Shock Free Zone” around Sanctuary through MGNREGA is underway, which will zero down electrocution of animals by next year. These interventions will go long way in the wildlife conservation for Debrigarh.

Like you mentioned that “the field of conservation has given you the opportunity to write, recreate and photograph”, Please tell us about your other interests and things you love to do apart from your duty?

Apart from by commitment as a government servant, photography, birding and reading a good book have been my favorite companions so far. Growing up, I loved books as my father was a professor and my mother was my tutor for all my study subjects until college. Inspite of being a working woman she gave all her time rearing up me and my two siblings.

Sometimes I do write, I have authored three publications( Birds of Satkosia Landscape, Satkosia- The Seen & The Unseen & Odisha Ecotourism) on Wildlife and Ecotourism beside few articles in national and international journals on the same. Rest, watching movies and listening to Lata Mangeshkar and Sia are my other leisure pursuit. Most valued is my fitness for me, I workout as it is required highly for healthy mind and clarity of thoughts.

Would you like to give any message for the women trying to or planning to make a mark in this field like you?

Opinions differ I know, but Being Women is a Grace, lets count our blessings and realize our strengths. When I look around for inspiration, I get engrossed by the success stories women are making throughout world. Being self reliant brings confidence to create and build lives and when we drop our Ego our “Individuality” shines. May it be Government work, field work or entrepreneurship, its discipline which rules the road and beyond conventional wisdom is real Life.

Also I do respect Men with values doing good work. Its true Men are from Mars & Women from Venus but both aspire for beautiful life. Work is beyond gender I sincerely believe. Honestly Earth is the place where both Men and Women have been living with harmony and peace since beginning of creation. Together lets make world a better place for all.

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