A forum of non-governmental organisations working in West Bengal's mangrove land Sundarbans on Thursday demanded the state government set up a commission for 'tiger widows' - women whose husbands have fallen prey to the big cat over the years.
"We want the government to form a separate commission for the 'tiger widows'. If not, then the women's commission should notify and acknowledge these deaths. That will help them in getting government assistance," said Milan Das, general secretary of ADakshin Banga Matsyajibi Forum (DBMF).
Nineteen 'tiger widows', now earning livelihood in the Sundarbans, during the day visited Kolkata and drew the attention of the government to their plight.
Das described how the formation of Sundarbans Tiger Reserve and sanctuaries affected the livelihood of the forest dwellers who depended on fishing.
Fishermen were harassed by officials of the forest department as fishing is illegal in the core area.
That's why death of these people is often not recorded. Their wives can neither avail of the state government's widow pension scheme nor can they get any kind of work to support the family.
"We want a little help from the government to get some work. We depend on the forest to survive and have to go for fishing despite losing our men in tiger attacks. My son worries for me as there is fear of crocodiles as well," Rangadashi Sardar, 50, told IANS.
With the help of activists, an association of Sundarbans Tiger Widows has been formed for encouraging the women to speak up for themselves and raise their demands.
"We want the government to give us widow pension. During elections, many people approached us, but otherwise officers chase us away," said Kaushalya Mondol, another victim's wife.
On International widow day, Action Aid and DISHA highlighted the plight of these women. "We will submit a memo at the office of Assistant Director of Fisheries (Marine), Diamond Harbour on July 2," said Sasanka Dey of Disha.
Highlighting the loopholes in policies, Nagarik Manch's Secretary Naba Datta said, "The Forest Rights Act 2006 which has been implemented across the country and 11 districts of West Bengal, leaves out Sunderbans. No clear explanation of this exclusion has been given".
The Forest Rights Act recognises the rights of forest-dwellers and dependents to live or pursue a livelihood in forests.
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