The Elephants of Koraibari - Field Notes of Jennifer Liang as part of the Research on Health Inequities in a Conflict Area; Koraibari is a forest encroached village next to the India-Bhutan border; most families were displaced from here to relief camps during the confict of 1996 and after staying there for 10 years they returned; they were displaced again in 2014 but returned after 6 months again
Somai Hasda - 3/7/2016 Koraibari Village
Researcher’s Notes: I stayed in the house of Somey Hasda – the gaon bura or village headman. There are 9 people living in the house – his 4 children ranging from 5 year to 18 years, his wife, father-in-law, an old widowed aunt and a teenage cowherd. In this village, the family would be considered quite well-off as they have 22 cows and sell milk to the “milk trader” who collects from their house. They also cultivate paddy, maize, tapioca and mustard. For the past one year now, the family has also opened a tiny shop – the only one in the village – which sells some sweets, soap, oil, salt etc. Being the gaon bura’s house many people would visit the house and hence got a chance to get familiar with them too. Since They all knew me as the NGO person from Deosri and many had seen me and also knew Rabindra from before, they were quite comfortable in sharing. Their daughter was the “teacher” in the school run by us and hence we had a place to stay the night.
3/7/2016 Somey Hasda’s House (next to BSF Camp), Koraibari
When we reached the house at around 11 a.m., there was some tension as two elephants had come the previous night and eaten away one big patch of maize owned by the family just across the stream from their house. They had kept vigil after dinner and had heard the elephants at around 10 p.m. and had chased them away. But when they did not return even after two hours, the family slept. The men were sleeping in a semi-open shed and with the rains pelting down the tin roof and drowning out all noise, they did not hear the elephants return. This morning when they woke up, they found the entire patch of maize crop which had just ripened and almost ready for harvesting, all gone. Somey had planted hybrid maize seeds this time and each plant had sprouted two maize cobs which were all big and full of ears of corn. We visited the patch and estimated around 300 plants had been destroyed by the elephants that night and even if they sold each at a minimum of Rs. 5 each, they would have lost 3000 rupees of corn in one night. Already the elephants in previous visits had uprooted and eaten a lot of the simla aloo or yam behind the house.
Hence, the family was tense as there was one more patch of corn just in front of the house which needed one more week’s time to be ready for harvesting. The whole day was spent in pregnant suspense if the elephants would again come in the night. As we waited for dinner to get ready, I sat with Somey Hasda and Rabindra in the tin shed talking about the conflict of 1996 and their return from the Deosri camp to Koraibari. We had to really shout as there was huge storm raging and we could hardly hear ourselves in the rain. With sprays of water getting us wet, yet we talked. And time and again, we would all shine our torches in the dark towards the maize patch and keep a look-out for the elephants. But we could hardly see through the sheets of pouring water.
As soon as the rains let up a bit, we heard a loud thump sound. Rabindra told me that it was the elephant hitting its trunk on the ground! Somey ran towards the maize patch and all the other family members also ran excitedly – some with torches and some without. I remained with the youngest boys in the shed watching in fear and awe. The two elephants – probably of the previous night – had come yet again and were eating away at the fresh match of maize even as we spoke. Making loud noises and shining their torches, they managed to get the elephants away from the patch. But only for them to lumber to the back of the house towards the fields of simla aloo (tapioca)! Even I joined in the excitement of elephant chasing this time as we ran towards the back of the house. The elephants disappeared into the nearby jungle in the commotion. We could hear them snort from time to time but not see them in the dark.
Sometime after our dinner, they crossed over back to their own side of the jungle and did not return again that night! But till we slept (and perhaps even long after that), I could spot Somey going to and fro from the maize patch in the front of the house to the yam fields at the back, shining his torch, trying to spot and chase away elephants. Early morning, he was up at 5 a.m. and by the time we woke up, he had already gone fishing in the dong (water canal) and brought back around half a kilo of small sized fish for lunch. The family was sad and upset this morning – yet more losses and a waste of hard labour.