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Tiger strikes fear among voters near Lucknow

Last updated on: February 18, 2012 11:47 IST

Tiger strikes fear among voters near Lucknow

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Saisuresh Sivaswamy in Lucknow

On Sunday February 19, when Uttar Pradeshi-ites will be voting in the fourth round of assembly elections, a small village on the outskirts of Lucknow may choose to sit it out.

Not out of any anti-democracy sentiment running through this under-developed hamlet barely 30 kilometres out of Lucknow. But because of a tiger that has been making the lives of residents miserable. Rediff.com's Saisuresh Sivaswamy reports.

The village, in Malihabad constituency, is located bang in the middle of Rehmankhera forest, really a misnomer for an abundance of trees and shrubs more than any grand enclave of fauna. Still, the undergrowth has enough density to hide an elephant, so it is no surprise that for more than six weeks the migrant tiger has been untraceable.

No one has any idea how the tiger landed up in the forest, or from where. But it soon made its presence known by attacking some domestic animals. Thankfully, homo sapiens has so far not featured on its preferred menu, but the villagers are a worried lot that it may change soon.

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Image: The Rehmankhera forest
Photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy

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Tiger strikes fear among voters near Lucknow

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When this reporter visited Ulrapur village on Friday, residents gathered to narrate stories of tiger-spotting, none of them verifiable. One local youth, Sanjay, even pointed to some wounds on his buffalo's back which he claimed were inflicted by the tiger and that he himself made good his escape by clambering up a tree.

But why an agile tiger would merely wound a plodding buffalo, and spare the calves lagging behind, defies logic.

Unlike other villages in the Rehmankhera, Ulrapur is connected to Dugauli village on the other side of the forest, by an apology of a track navigating which in daytime is a task for the stout-hearted. The villagers are not over-keen to take this road, but on February 19 they will have to, as the voting booth is in the other village.

"Of the 300 votes from this village, one can't say how many will venture all the way, especially given the fear over the tiger," says Sanjay.

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Image: The Rehmankhera forest
Photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy

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Tiger strikes fear among voters near Lucknow

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Surprisingly, despite the stories of tiger-spotting that residents of Dugauli, Ulrapur and Meethanagar were willing to trot out to this correspondent, human movement seemed by no means affected.

People were seen working in the fields, children were playing about, men were going about on bicycles and motorcycles, there was even a labour unit that was busy repairing the narrow track running through the forest.

Asked if he was not scared to move about, a resident of Meethanagar said, "No, I am not scared now, but I will be scared if I see the tiger, till then I will go about my job."

Others said things change by sundown, when life comes to a forced halt indoors. Although, given the sorry state of most of the homes, one wonders if they are enough to keep a determined tiger out.

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Image: The voting booth at Dugauli
Photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy

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Tiger strikes fear among voters near Lucknow

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Forest officials, worried by the reports of a big cat at large, have pressed into service an elephant to scare it into the open, but to no avail. They next summoned a sharpshooter from Hyderabad, but whose arrival set off a clamour of protests from animal rights activists, forcing the wildlife officials to clarify that their aim was to sedate the tiger and release it in its natural habitat, not kill it.

Residents of Ulrapur say that even candidates of political parties are afraid to venture out in the forest to ask for votes from villagers, so why expect them to brave it out on February 19.

In nearby Dugauli, meanwhile, preparations are underway for Sunday's polling. The local school doubles up as the voting booth, and it was spruced up for the big day when we visited it on Friday.

But, it is a cinch that Ulrapur residents will need more than a furbished school to motivate them to trek all the way to cast their vote.


Image: Ulrapur village
Photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy

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