MAHARASHTRA: A 2018-batch Indian Forest Officer has decided to tap the potential of tribal children in sports so that they compete at international level and earn medals for India in Olympics and other sports. “If property guided and trained, many of these tribal kids can excel in archery and hockey,” says Ananda Reddy, who loves wildlife photography and is posted in Nasik district of Maharashtra. “Soon after joining, I went out with my camera. I was surprised that several common types of birds were missing in the dense forest area. I inquired about it,” said the IIT-Madras graduate.
He was told that many tribal children hunted these birds with their traditional weapon called gulel or a slingshot. He decided to visit a nearby village. “I was astonished by the rampant killing of birds by tribal kids. I had two options: punish them under the Animal Protection Act with seven years’ imprisonment or think out-of-the-box. I chose the latter,” says Reddy.
The first option was easy to implement, while the second one held a prospect for a long-term positive effect. Reddy informed his office staff to call a meeting with the villagers along with their children. Initially, no one attended the meeting fearing some punishment. Persuasion eventually worked. People started coming in for the meeting. “I told them that they wouldn’t get much from killing birds. I also told them about the irreparable damage they would cause to the very ecology on which they depended for livelihood,” Reddy said.
That helped in reducing the bird killing. But I wanted to do more; I wanted to end that practice permanently,” recalls Reddy. “I told the children that they could exchange their slingshots for sports equipment, cycles or books. I got a very good response.” As of July 11, 92 out of 93 villages have responded and as many as 674 slingshots have been surrendered by children.
Reddy says he had no budget to purchase sports equipment. He decided to use his pocket money. Other staffers also pitched in. “When we went to the market to buy sports equipment, the shopkeepers asked us why we were buying so many balls, bats, bicycles, etc. We told them about the campaign to save nature. They too were excited. They offered us a good discount,” he said.
Today, as Reddy makes the rounds of these forest-connected villages, most of these tribal children, who had been busy killing birds not long ago, are seen playing various games. “I am sure very soon, we will see birds returning to our forests. By then, I pray, some of these tribal children would have an international presence in sports for India,” says Reddy.