In the Heart of the Conflict: Understanding the Human Elephant Dynamics in Udalguri

by Nabarun Guha

Ram Kumar Gaur (38) still shudders reminiscing the fateful November morning in 2018. That day, Gaur remembers sitting and chatting on the courtyard outside the thatched hut of his neighbour Kamil Ekka (60) at the edge of 1 no Segunbari village, barely few kilometres from the Indo-Bhutan border.

“It was 7.45 in the morning and before venturing to the field for work, I was chatting with another neighbour, Pradhan Murmu (70) at Ekka’s house. Suddenly, a lone elephant came from the side of the jungle and stormed through the house. While it killed Ekka on the spot, I was hit by its trunk and the impact landed me sideways” Gaur says.

The elephant severely injured Pradhan Murmu who succumbed to his injuries while being taken to the Udalguri Civil Hospital. Gaur’s injury fortunately was nothing major and he was discharged after few days. When asked if he is fearful of elephants now, Gaur says, “I am definitely afraid of elephants. But in Udalguri, you can’t escape elephants. Whether you like it or not, you have to live with them.”

With forest cover in the country is shrinking and humans jostling for space with wild animals, conflict between them is also increasing. As per government data, more people are killed in India by elephants than any other animal. Assam is one of the worst affected states from Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) because of which wildlife NGOs like Aaranyak have even demanded disaster status for the state, with regards to HEC. As per the data provided by Assam government during the Budget Session of the Assam Legislative Assembly last year, 761 people and 249 elephants became victims of HEC in the state from 2010 to 2018.

Photo: Dibakar Nayak

Elephant death at bhooteasang tea garden

Udalguri district, which falls under the Dhansiri forest division, has been the most affected from HEC in Assam. The district which lies in the west of Assam shares border with Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh in the north, Sonitpur