Prerna Singh Bindra - the Quintessential Woman in a Man's World
The theory of dual personality – Schizophrenia – is not just confined within individual psychology but also that of the Indian society as a whole.
Prerna Singh Bindra, one of India's leading environmental journalists and wildlife conservationists, goes vocal about this particular syndrome prevailing in the Indian society regarding its treatment towards elephants – an animal both worshipped and poached in the country. “We Indians are schizophrenic – we consider elephants as the avatar of Lord Ganesha and yet, elephants are being rapidly killed in this country. Similarly, we say ‘Ganga ji’ and ‘Yamuna ji’ are holy rivers and yet, they’re among the most polluted rivers in the entire world.”
Prerna plays many roles as a change maker and strides across two different worlds - wildlife and writing. A graduate in Economics from St Xaviers, Bindra has a master’s degree in Labour Welfare from Gujarat University. After passing out from Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad she started her career as a Research Associate but soon found that her true interest lay in writing.
Prerna started writing for Sanctuary Asia, a wildlife and nature conservation magazine, and went on to work in various leading dailies of the country including The Pioneer, The Times of India and The Asian Age. She has authored over 1500 articles on nature and wildlife in the mainstream media and has written several short stories for children. She is currently the editor of Tigerlink, a journal which collates and analyses information on tigers from across its range countries. Prerna has, to her credit, four critically acclaimed books - The King and I: Travels in Tigerland (2006), Voices in the Wilderness (2010), The Vanishing: India's wildlife crisis (2017) and When I grow up I want to be a Tiger (2017).
Prerna was born in Ahmedabad; her father was part of the Indian Police Service and her mother, a teacher. While her parents had made it clear that she had to remain in the city, her heart belonged to the wilderness and so she quit her job to embark on her journey as a wildlife conservationist.
She has been actively involved in working with government organisations at the local as well as national levels to conserve India's wildlife and wild habitats through policy and legal reforms. She has served as a member of the Uttarakhand State Board for Wildlife, was a part of the core standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife and a part of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
Known as the voice of the voiceless flora and fauna, Prerna who is a resident of Gurgaon, is a recipient of the Carl Zeiss Award for excellence in networking and engaging the public at large for the cause of wildlife conservation, as well as the Sanctuary Asia Wildlife Service Award for in-depth and consistent coverage of conservation issues.
On her most recent visit to Guwahati (5th March last), Prerna was invited by the Northeast Writers’ Forum for an interactive session. Prerna spoke about her love for wildlife, the dire need for conservation efforts and read excerpts from her latest book “The Vanishing: India’s wildlife crisis.”
The event was attended by various high officials of the forest department of Assam and leading environmentalists of the region including Moloy Barua, president of Early Birds (an NGO that aims to protect wildlife) and Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, CEO of Aaranyak (a leading NGO for nature and wildlife conservation).
Talking about the theme of her latest book, Prerna pointed out, “The Vanishing takes an unflinching look at the unacknowledged crisis that India’s wildlife faces and why it matters to us if the forest is bereft of tigers and elephants, if the bees vanish, if the gharial goes extinct from our rivers and if the skies are emptied of vultures. I have also woven in the ‘nature of animals’– how leopards have a sense of kinship and how there's empathy among elephants.”
She went on to talk about the elephant menace gripping the state terming conflict as man-made. “Elephants are the most peaceable and wise creatures. It is our destruction of their habitats that causes violent behaviour in them,” she stressed.
D. Harprasad (IFS), Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Head of Forests, Assam too addressed the issue of elephant menace saying, “The foremost reason behind elephant menace in Assam is development. Had elephant corridors not been disturbed and roads not been constructed in the routes used by elephants, they’d have peacefully remained in the interiors of the forests.”
The heavy economic toll that human-wildlife conflict takes on communities living and working near forests is barely addressed by the government and the compensation to victims of crop loss and cattle-death by wildlife is meagre. The local communities that inhabit the fringes of the forests and national parks play a pivotal role in wildlife conservation. But only if the villagers are economically stable will they continue to protect the ecosystem.
Harprasad promised to raise the matter in the Forest Department and raise the compensation provided to these farmers so that they’re not forced to break the balance in the ecosystem.
Prerna has visited Guwahati multiple times, but mostly for brief halts en route the beautiful forests and national parks of Assam. “I feel that Guwahati is incredibly lucky to have the extremely rare Gangetic Dolphins right in the heart of the city. I remember visiting Guwahati sometime in 2006. The day we reached, an Assam Bandh had been called and there was barely anything we could do or anywhere we could go to. So we went and sat by the Brahmaputra and oh, what a sight it was! We spotted at least six Gangetic River Dolphins and Guwahati has been in my heart ever since,” she said. Prerna also spoke about the famous and equally vulnerable one-horned rhinos and stressed on the dire need to protect them.
While most environmentalists and conservationists blame overpopulation for the degrading state of affairs, Prerna believes that it is not about how many we are in numbers but about how much we consume.
“By some estimates, species are dying off as much as 1,000 times more frequently than they used to before humans. It’s the worst spate of die-offs since the giant meteorite that hit earth some 65 million years ago wiping out the dinosaurs, and over half the planet’s species. Unlike the previous mass extinctions caused by such asteroid strikes and volcanic eruptions, the demon meteor this time is us — homo sapiens. Our impact has game-changed the planet, altered and destroyed natural habitats, changed the climate and rapidly made the earth inhospitable,” Prerna read an excerpt from “The Vanishing.”
During the discussion, an important factor came to light – India is facing a crisis of people working for wildlife. While the needs of people are ever-increasing and development has always been prioritized in our policies, none of it can be fulfilled if the forests seized to exist. The need for better laws and policies regarding wildlife conservation was stressed and young writers were encouraged to write about these burning issues.
“I have a strong belief that words have the power to influence. If young writers address the issues of wildlife, they can influence the masses with their words and help save our forests. Only if we call the issues, will we be able to act towards them,” she advised.
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