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Did The Blackbuck And Chinkara Commit Suicide?

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By Rajeshwari Ganesan:

Note: This article has been republished from Down To Earth

Actor Salman Khan, on Monday, was acquitted by the Rajasthan high court in the Blackbuck and Chinkara poaching cases. Khan was accused of killing a Blackbuck and a Chinkara in two separate incidents in 1998 along with actors Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Tabu and Neelam during the shooting of a film. In 2006, he was sentenced to one year and five years of imprisonment for the two cases under Section 51 of the Wildlife Protection Act. He came out on bail, challenged the verdict and subsequently had appealed to the Rajasthan High Court which had finished hearing the cases in the last week of May. It had reserved its decision at the time.

Rate Of Acquittal In Wildlife-Related Offences

The verdict, yet again, brings into focus the alarmingly high rate of acquittal in wildlife-related crimes.
Housing five tiger reserves, Maharashtra, for instance, recorded only 17 convictions of the 147 court orders between 1995 and 2014, with a success rate of 11.56 per cent. The latest data available from National Crime Records Bureau of 2014 says that the out of 5,835 cases reported under environment-related offences, 770 cases were reported under the Wildlife Protection Act, for which, 134 people were arrested and fewer were convicted.

As many as 59 tiger deaths have been recorded across the country from January 2, 2016 to July 17, 2016. The causes of deaths are known only in 12 cases, according to the official database of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). Of these 12, four cases are of tigers being poisoned and one is confirmed to be poaching. When contacted, the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau refused to comment on the status of investigation.

Why Does Wildlife Crime Often Go Unreported?

“Foresters tend to conceal the information on poaching. Most of the poaching cases either do not come out or are simply attributed to various other ‘non-suspicious’ factors. Every forest guard is so burdened today that even if they see a tiger carcass lying there with suspected situation of being poached, they would simply try and not register it. Once he brings it to the notice of the higher authorities on record, it will be hassle to transport it and then appear at the court as witness. He may not have any money and he will be the sole breadwinner for his family. How can we expect that tiger conservation will be strong in the country?” explains Shekhar Kumar Niraj, head of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, in India.

Moreover, if the animal has been poisoned or dies naturally, the carcass starts decomposing in a matter of few hours. In less than four days, the carcass is not recognisable, say experts. The chances of forest guards spotting a carcass before this time are slim. “A lot of mortality cases fall under this category. The only way to mitigate this is to record the details correctly,” says K Ullas Karanth, conservation zoologist.

After all these hurdles, the case finally reaches the court where the rate of conviction is abysmal, owing to “the lack of evidence”, points out Samir Trivedi, an environmental lawyer.

Standard Operating Procedure For Dealing With Tiger Deaths

NTCA has issued an SOP for dealing with tiger deaths in 2013. According to the SOP, once the carcass is spotted, the officials have to systematically record the circumstantial observation and extensively photograph the scene. After collecting the required evidences, the corpse is sent for post-mortem examination, following which the visceral samples are sent for forensic analysis to the laboratories with domain expertise for DNA profiling and histopathological tests.

Before disposing off the carcass, the post-mortem report has to be finalised and sent to the Chief Wildlife Warden keeping the NTCA informed. If the post-mortem report is still being prepared, a preliminary report has to be sent immediately.

To conduct the DNA profiling and histopathological test, NTCA confirms that there are only four labs authorized—the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in Dehradun, Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, National Centre for Biological Sciences Research, Bengaluru and Aaranyak, a Guwahati-based NGO working in tandem with the state government. “These few labs are overburdened to the extent that there are over 3000 pending cases in the court awaiting the completion of laboratory examination,” says Niraj.

Bypassing Legal Provisions

“In most cases, the carcasses rot before being sent for investigations so we cannot prove the cause of death. In case the accused is caught red-handed with the animal parts, the witnesses turn hostile or the prosecution authorities do not shown up in court. If the accused pleads guilty they are convicted. Even in the same case, those who plead not guilty are acquitted and the absconders are discharged. Or else, the seized articles are not produced before the court by the investigation authority. It reflects the overall lack of seriousness when it comes to persecution under the Wildlife Protection Act,”  he says.

Even in cases where the accused is proven guilty, wrong sections under the WPA are cited, says Trivedi. “The accused are not sentenced to the mandatory minimum punishment prescribed under the Act. Offences in relation to animals specified in Schedule I and Part II of Schedule II of the Act carry a prescribed penalty of not less than three years imprisonment, which may extend up to seven years and a fine of not less than Rs 10,000. These cases are non-compoundable.”

However, there have been cases in which the seizure of a blackbuck skin led to only six months of imprisonment and a paltry fine of Rs 2,500. Blackbuck is a Schedule I animal. Take today’s case of Salman Khan’s acquittal. The key witness Harish Dulani, who was the driver of the vehicle that was allegedly used in both the poaching cases, was never available for cross-examination and the defence argued that his statements could not be relied upon. “So, did the blackbuck and the chinkaras commit suicide?”  Trivedi remarks sardonically.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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