In recent times, the media – particularly Kuensel, has been reporting on a brand new social malady called Goongtong – the apathetic case of abandoned households in the rural areas of Eastern dzongkhags. Other than arousing a mild sense of curiosity generated by the term itself, the tragedy that is Goontong does seem to have created much flutter among the authorities. If it did, there is no sign of it.
Goongtong is a term derived from the combination of two independent words: “Goong” meaning household, and “Tong” meaning empty: empty household. It is a form of human adaptation necessitated by changing conditions within the sphere of their traditional dwellings.
Unfortunately, it is a change that reflects an act of desperation, the forfeiture of the rights of the humans – to live peacefully and in comfort within the confines of their own habitat. The mass movement of human population from the villages to the urban centers and roadside shanties is the result of a society that is increasingly becoming unthinking and insensitive. It demonstrates the abject failure and utter indifference of the policy makers to be responsive to the changing realities in the remote villages. Clearly, this is proof that policy makers in Thimphu are far removed from the realities of the lot in whose name and cause they profess to make the rules and regulations.
There are a number of other reasons but at the core of it, the problem of Goongtongs is caused mainly by, what the “educated” lot have grandiosely termed, “human-wildlife conflict”. Incredibly, the coinage “human-wildlife conflict” is a complete misnomer and a myth that has helped perpetuate the Goongtong malady. The fact that such a colossal misconception finds ready acceptance among the so-called “educated” lot is simply astounding. Is it possible that the country may be accruing some financial benefits from allowing this fallacy to be perpetuated, at the cost of the poor villagers? If not, how is it possible that the bureaucrats and the lawmakers and the environmentalists are doing nothing to contain this potentially dangerous situation to snowball into a disaster?
For anyone with a heart and a mind, it should be clearly evident that the case is not that of human-wildlife conflict. It does not exist. In fact it is a complete walkover – by the wild animals. They come, they plunder, they vandalise and they walk away – scot-free! If the villagers respond, they are fined and penalised. So where is the conflict? A conflict situation arises when two parties have the freedom and the right to react to other’s acts of aggression. The situation in the villages is that the humans are the passive watchers while the wild animals have a field day. Clanging empty tin cans and nightlong vigils and ingenious means of warding off the wildlife has not helped – leaving the villagers only one way out: to accept defeat and abandon farming as a means of livelihood.
As a result of the unchecked increase in the population of wildlife, an imbalance has been created – primarily because our laws give complete protection to the wildlife.
A good conservation policy aims at maintaining a balance, an equilibrium – because we know that when the balance is tipped in favour of one or the other, chaos follows. That is why there is a term known as “culling”. It cannot be that the humans have begun to encroach into the habitats of the wildlife – not in Bhutan. Records do not suggest such a scenario. In fact the reverse is true – the wildlife is now on the verge of taking over human habitat. They have begun to prey on the crops of the humans – because they represent easy pickings.
The wildlife are picking up a dangerous habit – that of feeding off the crops of the humans. Over time, there is a real danger that they may lose their natural instinct to hunt for food. Instead they may become habitual foragers in the fields of the humans – thereby proliferating the incidences of Goongtongs – mostly in the Eastern part of the country.
The government and the concerned agencies need to revisit its laws and Acts that have so far given complete and total protection to the animals – thereby upsetting the rules of co-habitation between humans and animals. Certain rules and laws may have been necessary during the time they were promulgated. However, we are now dealing with a situation that is no longer the same. All rules must undergo change – to suite a given situation. They must be appropriate.
If annual migrations of rural population out of their homes and villages are to be halted, one of the things we must do is to review and amend the laws that give animals primacy over humans. Let us give the poor villagers a fighting chance. If we don’t, the consequences can be too costly for the country.
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