Located close to Amangarh Tiger Reserve, the village recently witnessed the mauling to death of a five-year-old child
Dhampur, Bijnor: “The sun was about to set. I was sitting in the courtyard of the house and my mother-in-law was making bread at the chulha (stove). Everything was quiet until I saw this huge creature emerge, carrying my daughter in its mouth. It vanished within split seconds. Even her voice did not come out. We later found her body in the bushes.”
Manisha Devi of Mussepur in Dhampur tehsil of Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor district shudders as she describes the dreadful day (April 25) a leopard mauled her daughter Yashi (5) to death. Yashi was playing with her two-and-a-half-year-old brother Garv Kumar, when the incident occurred.
Mussepur lies adjacent to Amangarh Tiger Reserve. Four to five houses, including that of Manisha’s family, are built a little apart from the village and closer to the forest. Though they were aware of the attacks by predators in other places, they went about with their lives as usual as such a thing had never been reported here.
“We have been living here for decades, but such an incident has never occurred before. All this happened in front of my eyes, but how could I save her? From that day, my son is also in fear," says Manisha.
“On that day, I had gone to the market located around four km away to sell vegetables. Now the situation is such that unemployment will kill you if you stay indoors, and animals will kill you if you venture out," laments Yashi’s father Tekchand.
Belonging to the Saini caste (traditionally farmers), Tekchand’s ancestors have lived on their private property for the last many generations. The tiger reserve was established much later, in 2012. Though they own only a few bighas, the family is dependent on vegetable cultivation on that land. “My father-in-law has been into farming for a long time. We are concerned about our safety, but our work is here. We cannot leave this place," says Manisha.
Asked if he had received any compensation, Tekchand says, “The forest staff processed some papers, but nothing can compensate for my daughter. We have to wait and see when we will receive that money. For the time being, catching the leopard is of utmost necessity.”
Meanwhile, retired forest ranger Pratap Singh Saini of Dhampur informs that there is a rule to provide a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to those who die in a leopard or tiger attack outside the forest area.
Armed with sticks, always
After Yashi's death, a lot has changed in the lives of Tekchand and those in the neighbourhood. During the day, when Manisha leaves home for agricultural activities, her mother-in-law sits with Kumar as he plays in a room behind the thatched courtyard.
It is quite dark inside. But after losing their daughter, the family does not want to take any chances. Soon after the incident, they covered the open courtyard with black foil to keep animals at bay.
“Yashi and my son Naitik used to go to school together. They studied in the same class. After the tragic incident, we ensure that a family member always accompanies him to the school, armed with a stick in hand. This summer vacation, children stayed indoors. Forget children, even teenagers were ‘imprisoned’ in their homes before dusk,” regrets Shanti Devi, a relative.
Another relative has four teenage daughters. Her husband goes out for work. "Our farm is located slightly away from the house. We go together and take sticks with us. Two of my daughters stand guard, as the other two and I engage in farm work,” she says.
From left to right: Grieving mother, Manisha Devi; her younger child, Garv Kumar; Shanti Devi; her son and Yashi's playmate, Naitik (Photos - Shahbaz Anwar, 101Reporters)
Seven deaths so far
Situated on the Haridwar-Kashipur National Highway, Mussepur has a population of above 1,000. According to Dhampur forest ranger Govind Ram, leopards have mauled seven persons to death so far this year. Three children, two women and two men have lost their lives in different attacks in the district between February 12 and April 28.
Spread over an area of about 80 km, Bijnor district comprises Dhampur, Najibabad, Nagina, Bijnor and Chandpur tehsils. Of them, leopard attacks have been increasing in the first three tehsils. These areas lie adjacent to the border with Uttarakhand and close to Corbett and Amangarh tiger reserves.
“Seven people have been killed, and it seems different leopards are involved. We have installed over eight cages to catch them,” says Mahesh Gautam, Forest Officer, Amangarh Tiger Reserve.
Bijnor District Forest Officer AK Singh tells 101Reporters that veterinary doctors and tranquillizing teams have been deployed to capture the leopards. “We think around 60 of them are present in the affected areas. We have captured 10 and have released them deep inside the forest."
Conflicts involving elephants and tigers are also common in this area. Asked why leopard attacks were increasing, Gautam says, "The possibility of a leopard turning into an attacker increases in one of these three circumstances — in old age, in case the canine tooth is broken and during its fertilisation period. We are investigating the reason behind the attack in Mussepur. We will find out if the animal has an injury in its mouth or a broken tooth. But the first priority is to catch the beast."
Edited by Rekha Pulinnoli
Cover photo by Shahbaz Anwar, 101Reporters