Soumyadeep Dutta has been travelling around rural Assam for over two decades now, spreading awareness on wildlife conservation and rhino-poaching. Often referred to as the ‘rhino man’ for being committed to the cause, he has scripted a success story in the northeastern state.
An Ashoka fellow, the 47-year-old activist heads Nature’s Beckon, a group which spreads awareness about wildlife conservation, and does research and documentation. The group was founded in 1982 and is based at Dhubri. Nature’s Beckon is credited with the discovery of golden langurs in the forest of Chakrashila Hills Reserve in Dhubri district, which was declared a wildlife sanctuary by the government in 1994. Nearly eight reserve forest areas were given the same status following their efforts.
His love for wildlife came early in life. The activist, having inspired by his grandfather Kamal Narayan Choudhury, decided to devote his life to the cause. “My grandfather attached great importance to the conservation of nature. He is my inspiration,” Dutta says. “When I grew up and went to Chakrashila, I saw that golden langurs were facing extinction. Our group decided to fight for the cause. For the next 12-13 years, we led a movement demanding protection to the animal and its eco-system. We won the battle and the government declared Chakrashila Hills Reserve a wildlife sanctuary. It is the only protected habitat for golden langurs in India.” He believes that a forest can be protected only after it is declared a sanctuary. “Once we identify a place rich in bio-diversity, we start working for its preservation,” the activist says.
Nature’s Beckon is involved in multi-structural activism. “Our ultimate goal is to provide a protected habitat for the endangered animals and species. If a habitat is preserved, the bio-diversity is also preserved. For example, the protection of the golden langurs led to the protection of hundreds of birds, insects, mammals, etc. at Chakrashila,” he adds.
In 1988, the Nature’s Beckon carried out the first state-wide and mass campaign on environmental awareness and conservation of rain forests. The group that has around 260 members gets financial assistance from the government.
However, the group is not a business enterprise. “Nature’s Beckon doesn’t give us our bread and butter. We all are self-employed. A few members, like me, write books on wildlife and environment. We contribute through the royalty we get from our publishers. Besides, we also receive donations from people,” he adds.
Dutta has written several books such as Aranyar Saa Pohor, Asomor Primate, Udgiran and Pratibad Aaru Pratyasha, and co-authored books on Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary, including Asomor Abhayaranya Aaru Rashtriya Uddyan. Sometimes, members put up stalls in fairs and during festivals to sustain the group.
Recently, they started ‘grammya abhayaranya’ (rural sanctuary) to spread awareness about animals’ protection in every village.