Did you know that tigers can render entire villages without men? While it may seem outlandish, this is the truth many villages in West Bengal's southern region lives with.
Now, the state government is looking to adopt a few of these villages as an experiment in an effort to empower women who have been widowed by man-animal conflict in the deep forests across the southern districts of West Bengal.
Here are seven things to know:
1. Man-animal conflict is a near-daily occurrence in the Sunderbans — a mangrove forest across India and Bangladesh bordering the Bay of Bengal — and other forest areas in the southern districts of West Bengal.
2. Quite often, the men who live in these areas earn a meagre livelihood and by gathering honey and wood, West Bengal Panchayats and Rural Development Minister Subrata Mukhopadhyay told International Business Times, India.
3. The area happens to be the habitat of the endangered Bengal tiger. The men take several protective measures to ensure that they survive tiger encounters. For example, they often wear human masks on the back of their heads to keep tigers away: The big cats have been known to mistake the masks for the actual faces of people, rarely attack humans from the front.
4. Nevertheless, these men who go into the forest are often killed by tigers when there is a confrontation. This has resulted in some villages on the fringes of the forest areas being rendered without a male population, with only the womenfolk widowed in tiger attacks — locally called "bagh bidhoba", whose literal meaning is tiger-widow — living there, Mukhopadhyay told IBTimes India.
5. It is three of these villages that Mukhopadhyay's department, and by extension, the West Bengal government, is adopting on a pilot basis. The extent of success of this pilot project will determine whether it will be extended to other such villages.
6. A total of 11 such villages — populated solely by 'bagh bidhobas' or women whose husbands were killed by tigers — have been identified, and the department is currently conducting surveys to identify more such villages.
7. The women had so far been helped by NGOs, but that help was not sufficient. They will now receive help from the state government, which is looking to help them earn a decent living through self-help groups, Mukhopadhyay told IBTimes India. The state government may also fund the education of these tiger-widows.