Byaghrobidhoba: Tiger Widows, the untold story of rights, relief and compensation.

Tiger widows, a term that arose from a stark reality of human sustenance, in the Sundarban area give direct translation from the Bengali word “Byaghrobidhoba”, it connotes to the phenomenon of death caused by tiger attacks without vilifying the animal. The story of Tiger Widows is a story of lives and their will to survive in a place which has faced the brunt of climate induced devastations in the last few decades. 

Firstly, the nature of the ever-changing Sundarban Forest requires everyone to adapt. Salinity of water, cyclones, declining mangrove forestation, soil erosion all contribute to the dire conditions of the people and the wildlife in the region. (see On Islands Swallowed By Water, There Is Nowhere Else to Go) Thus the people living in the area are forced to venture far and wide into the delta for fishing. Small-scale fisherfolk who rely on traditional methods of fishing are forced to take extreme risks for livelihood. Such risks have only amplified over the years due to the impact on the locality from climate oriented disasters.

Global Climate Change has had the largest impact in the delta in recent years. In December 2023, the Government of West Bengal claimed damages from the UN’s Loss and Damage Fund, which was agreed upon during the COP28 summit. The claim includes coverage for climate-displaced populations from the Sundarbans. (see above) This indicates the nature of direness that exists in the Sundarban area for all living beings in the wake of the climate crisis that is being faced all around the world and the manifestation of such dire conditions is reflected in the phenomenon of tiger widows.

The issue of Tiger Widows amplifies even further when they face the myriad of obstacles to obtain their due compensation and relief. One of the first obstacles is the knowledge gap that persists in this area. While the literacy rate in West Bengal is 77% as per the 2011 census data, the literacy rate in Sundarbans in comparison is little over 25% (see here) and the fallout of such lack in knowledge gap spills over in almost every aspect of their lives. 

Many fishermen hire boats to engage in their fishing activities. There is a stipulation from the Forest Department to obtain boat licences and in order to procure such licences it is mandatory to apply for accidental insurance. These insurances cover any accidental damages to the fishermen including payment of the death benefit in cases of death caused by wildlife attacks. Apart from such insurances which cover some benefit to the insured, there are a number of state government and forest department compensations for which the families of the tiger victims are eligible. Generally, the insurance is done by insurance agents who offer little to no help in cases of claims for the assured sum or death benefit. This coupled with the lack of knowledge and education regarding such matters renders the claim of insurance, compensation and benefit an insurmountable challenge for them.

It is this exact conjunction point of last mile connectivity where DISHA is intervening to help these women and their families get their lawful claims. The following blogs will highlight the activities of DISHA with Tiger widows through legal aid camps.

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