Mogiya is a tribe whose members have been hunters since a long time. They mainly inhabit the tracts from Sheopur district of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh to the Gwalior district of the same state. This is a long tract of forested area along the banks of the river Chambal – the “bandit” river of India. The traditional economy of the Mogiyas was totally dependent on the forest. They were hunters who would survive by selling bush meat to the local villagers. They were often employed by the local villagers to protect their crop from being grazed by wild animals. Sometimes, they were also employed as “game watchers” in the private hunting grounds of the royalty and big landlords. The only skill that they have is tracking and hunting. And they are really good at it.
They are a very secretive community who often resorted to crime to supplement their meager incomes. Though they originally come from this area along the Chambal – between the states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh – one could call them semi-nomadic, as they keep drifting. During the Raj, the British administration had classified them as a “criminal tribe”. The economic gains that India made in the past few decades totally bypassed them. Presently, the Mogiyas, like the two women in the picture below, are one of the poorest and most politically isolated of all the communities in the region. They are, in fact, not even classified as “tribals” by the government of India and so get none of the benefits that the “tribals” get in India.
After the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 was promulgated in India, hunting became totally illegal in India and the Mogiyas traditional skills became “illegal activities”. No attempts were made by the state to train them in new skills and rehabilitate them. As a result they are right now the most deadly poachers of Central India.
Around Ranthambhore, a large number of villages still employ the Mogiyas as protectors of their crops from raids by wild animals. The Mogiyas are paid a small fee for doing this but more importantly the villagers give the Mogiyas protection from being arrested by the authorities. They usually build a small temporary hutment of wood and thatch near the village at a vantage point – from where they can keep a look out for wild game and the local authorities that come to raid them.
Mogiyas, mostly, supplement their incomes by killing and supplying bush meat to the local people. Some of them also kill tigers, leopards and bears – when the time is right. The time is right when there is a demand for skins and bones of these predators and when the policing by the Forest department is lax. When Mr. G.V. Reddy left as the Field Director of Ranthambhore, at the end of 2002, the time was right.
Even when Mr. Reddy was here there was some bit of hunting going on in and around Ranthambhore. But the Forest department was very active at that time and the general impression on the ground was that it is very risky to kill big game around Ranthambhore. The chances of getting caught and prosecuted were very high. Even them a few people were killing animals but there were no reports of large scale poaching by organized gangs. It is extremely difficult to totally stop all forms of poaching because of the lie of the land and with the meager resources that are there at the disposal of the forest department. At that time most of the “organized poachers” had migrated away from here for easier pastures. When Reddy left – the time was right for the bad guys.
The man in the above picture is Rajmal Mogiya, who is currently in jail for killing three tigers in Ranthambhore. He was arrested by Dharmendra Khandal and Vakil Mohammed – the two super hero activists of Tiger Watch. The three of us – Dharmendra, Vakil and I had earlier (in end of January 2005) arrested him for killing a sambar deer. We are also trying to wean his family away from poaching, by finding altrenative sources of income for them. In this we are being helped by Kids for Tigers , Delhi. The girl in the picture below is his grand daughter.