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Gorakhpur: In Maharajganj district’s forest villages, primarily inhabited by the Vantangiya community, locals are forced to spend thousands of rupees to instal electric fences to protect the crop from stray animals.
This helps villagers get a night’s sleep. In this region, where farm land is not clearly demarcated so as to allow ease of fencing, keeping watch all night is the only other option.
Land of Vantangiyas who can neither spend money on fencing nor keep physical watch, is left uncultivated.
There are a total of 23 forest villages in Gorakhpur and Maharajganj districts. More than 4,500 Vantangiya families live across Maharajganj’s 18 villages. Agriculture is the main occupation here. This is because the community has received land on lease under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act. This act is better known as the Forest Rights Act.
The history of their name offers a picture of their practices.
‘Tangiya’ is a farming system practised in the mountains of Myanmar. In it, cultivation is carried out on barren tracts of land between forested areas. Around 100 years ago, practitioners of this farming system were brought by the British from then Burma to eastern Uttar Pradesh, to set up sal and teak plantations in the Gorakhpur and Maharajganj regions. They came to be called the ‘Vantangiyas’ – ‘van’ means ‘forest’.
Vantangiyas have inhabited this forested region in eastern Uttar Pradesh ever since and have been engaged in this mode of cultivation for a living. After the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, the community got legal ownership of the land.
Under the Forest Rights Act, 3,798 families of Maharajganj district got 128.361 hectares of residential and 1488.761 hectares of agricultural land. In Gorakhpur, 504 families got 24.97 hectares of residential land and 202.8 hectares of agricultural land. However, some families are still deprived of land rights under the Forest Rights Act.
The Vantangiyas possess fertile land in these forest villages where they grow wheat, paddy and many vegetables. They also rear a large number of cattle.
Out of 18, 12 villages in Maharajganj district are located in the dense forest of Sohagi Barwa Wildlife Sanctuary while six villages – Vilaspur, Daulatpur, Barhawa, Bhari Vaisi, Surpar and Khurrampur – lie on the edge of the forest.
Mangroo, a resident of Khurrampur forest village, has installed a wired fence around his farm land, close to his house, and connected it to a ‘stun machine’. He turns the machine on at night and low intensity current flows through the wires. If stray animals try to enter the farm, they get a slight jolt and are scared away. The machine also makes a steady noise. Villagers believe that ones an animal receives a mild shock, it is wary of most fences, wired or not.
Mangroo said he and other villagers came up with this arrangement last year as a last ditch effort to save his crop from stray cattle. “Whether it is day or night, herds of stray cattle enter the fields and destroy the entire crop,” said Mangroo.
Two machines – a small one worth Rs 4,500 and a bigger one costing Rs 13,000 – and the wire fence, together meant that a significant amount of money needed to be spent.
But the cost would have risen had he installed similar machines in fields that are farther away from his house. This has meant that only one of his fields – where he grows vegetables – is protected this way.
The chairman of Khurrampur’s forest rights committee, Rajaram, said that the government has provided electricity and built a road in the village, but stray animals are the problem of the hour.
“Wild animals like porcupine, boar and nilgai were already a nuisance for our crops,” he said. “Now, stray cattle has been causing further destruction. Farming has become excessively difficult. Though the machines offer a solution, but they are very costly.”
According to Rajaram, a single machine costs around Rs 15,000. “In the village, 8-10 people usually pool in money to set up such machines. I have also installed similar equipment to protect 20 acres of agricultural land and erected a wired boundary. Many people are doing it,” he said.
“We are poor. We don’t have Rs 5,000 or Rs 10,000 to spare. How can we buy the machine?” a local, Ramraj asked. “It’s beyond reach for us. We can only afford to cover the field with jute rags, but that is also damaging for the crop.”
Rajaram added that the key problem is that farm land is not consolidated in the village. In spite of his being a “revenue village” – one with clearly demarcated borders – the fields are scattered, making it difficult to install enough electric fences and power machines that are needed to protect all of them, he said.
A Khurrampur villager, Jhinki, said stray cattle are the main problem. “Nilgai and bisons also cause a lot of damage. All these animals enter the fields and graze on the crop. The problem has aggravated during the past four to five years.”
Vantangiyas in the Bhari Vaisi village near Campierganj have fenced their fields with wire and mesh as well. A villager, Hariram, said, “Animals are a big nuisance in the village. They eat away all the crop. We are forced to leave our land uncultivated at times. Some of us try to protect the crop by installing wires and mesh in the field, but not everyone can afford it.”
Here too, the village has been left out of land consolidation drives.
In Khurrampur, 119 hectares of land has been given on lease to 304 Vantangiya families, while 68.597 hectares has been given to 147 Vantangia families in Bhari Vaisi. Both the villages fall under the Pharenda assembly constituency.
The stray cattle menace and the havoc it wreaks on agriculture has increased the rate of migration from forest villages and a large number of youth are moving to places like Delhi, Mumbai, and Gujarat to find work. The gravity of the migrant crisis in the region was highlighted when about 1,000 labourers returned to the forest villages of Maharajganj in the lockdown imposed during the pandemic.
“The government is neither managing stray animals nor is it concerned about the damage they cause to the crop,” said Rajaram. “We are dealing with the problem on our own.”