Colonel Kesri Singh, in one of his books (One Man and a Thousand Tigers published in 1959), mentions Nathu Bawariya, a traditional tribal hunter from Ranthambhore, who aided him in tracking a “troublesome tiger”, and apprised him in detail , of the purported medicinal benefits of different kinds of bushmeat. This is the first instance of a traditional hunting tribal being written about in the same context as Ranthambhore and it’s tigers. Whilst mentioning him, Col. Kesri Singh also described the long history of Nathu’s tribe in Ranthambhore, and their unparalleled knowledge of wildlife and junglecraft.
It was perhaps with Col. Singh’s assistance (he did manage the Shikarkhana of the erstwhile princely state of Jaipur after all), that Nathu’s son Mukan was employed in Ranthambhore as a forest guard. Mukan was quite possibly the first Bawariya to directly join the mainstream by working for a government agency. However, steady employment and accountability still being relatively alien concepts, Mukan eventually ‘sold’ this job for a pittance. For just a few rupees, Mukan had the paperwork of his government job changed, and handed them over to an opportunistic local. The latter was in fact, a wily upper caste man from the same village named Kajod Singh. However, whilst employed as a forest guard, Mukan curiously started using the surname ‘Mogiya’, instead of ‘Bawariya’, the name of his father’s tribe. There is a long and complex history behind this change.
Mukan Mogiya jubilantly dancing at a community wedding celebration (Photo: Dr. Dharmendra Khandal)
Although ‘Mogiya’ and ‘Bawariya’ refer to the same community, there are many painful secrets and fascinating stories behind the use of these two names, which are buried only in the hearts of the people of this tribe. The use of these names has historically been dependent on government policy.
The British Raj, under the Criminal Tribes Act – 1871, placed 12 communities in Rajasthan on the list of criminal tribes – Mina, Bhil, Bajaria, Kanjar, Sansi, Banjara, Bagaria, Nat, Nalak, Multani, Bhat and Mogiya. It is said that the Kingdom of Mewar (Udaipur) first gave the name ‘Mogiya’ to select Bawariya tribesmen. This is because some Bawariya tribesmen assisted the ruling house in quelling an insurrection led by Bhils or Minas (there are differing accounts). The Mogiyas were thus considered close to the ruling house of Mewar. According to George Whitty Gayer’s 1909 book, Lectures on some criminal tribes of India and religious mendicants, the Maharaja of Mewar declared in a durbar that the loyal Bawariya tribesmen, “were to him as precious as the Moongas i.e. coral beads of his necklace”, and the same select tribesmen were then referred to first as ‘Moongias’, and then later ‘Mogiyas’.
Mukan and his family (Photo: Dr. Dharmendra Khandal)
Following their listing as one of the ‘criminal tribes’ under the Criminal Tribes Act – 1871, the young men of this tribe began using the surname ‘Mogiya’, in order to avoid facing the brunt of this discriminatory law. Around 1947, there were 127 tribes that the British kept under the ambit of this draconian law. Back then, the population of these tribes would have been approximately 1 crore 30 lakh (13 million). Stories of the indignities this law subjected these communities to are eye-opening, for example, the men were compelled to report to the nearest police station every week to register their presence, and if they were found outside of their designated areas, the full force of the law was brought down upon them.
India is a unique country with several castes, communities and creeds. Almost every individual is confined to the boundaries created by these divisions in different ways. At present, such identities are assumed at birth. These identities may have once been related to occupation, which were first hereditary, and then evolved into distinct identity groups altogether.
In 1952, on the recommendation of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), India finally emancipated these 127 tribes from an outdated colonial schedule, and they were henceforth known as ‘Denotified Tribes’. However, it was quite like scraping the top layer off a glued sticker, for there is still some sticky residue at the bottom that is very difficult to get rid off.
Mukan’s son, Bhajan Mogiya, a reformed tiger poacher (Photo: Dr. Dharmendra Khandal)
Mukan Mogiya’s family has a rather unique association with Tiger Watch Ranthambore. While one of his sons Govind served on our anti-poaching unit, our organization also caught two of his other sons, Kalu and Bhajan for poaching tigers and leopards, in collaborative anti-poaching operations with the Rajasthan Police. At the same time, 15 children from this family have been educated in our Mogiya Education Program (MEP), a relationship which continues to this day.
It was one of these children, an older boy, who suddenly declared one day that if he got some money, he intended to change his surname from ‘Mogiya’ to ‘Bawariya’. I thought that this might be an effort at self-respect or individualism, but on the contrary, he responded that Mogiyas belong to the ‘Backward Classes’ (OBC) whereas Bawariyas are included in the ‘Scheduled Castes’ (SC) and are thus given greater priority when it came to free rations, education and employment. Therefore, reverting to ‘Bawariya’ two generations later was a beneficial move. He thus reverted to his great-grandfather’s surname and identity, by bribing a local government official with a mere Rs. 2500. Today, most of the children enrolled in the MEP have started using the surname ‘Bawariya’ again instead of ‘Mogiya’.
It is ironic that whilst people in villages do not distinguish between ‘Bawariya’ and ‘Mogiya’, the government considers them two distinct identities. In the recent past, researchers from the Anthropological Survey of India came to Tiger Watch to study the Mogiyas, believing them to be a distinct tribe they had ignored till now.
Bhajan’s son, Dilkush Bawariya. The 4th generation since Nathu Bawariya, and the first to receive a formal education. The Mogiya Education Programme (MEP) has been consistently supported by Sud-Chemie Pvt. Ltd. (Mr. Iskander Laljee) (Photo: Dr. Dharmendra Khandal)
In our 15 year experience of operating the Mogiya Education Programme, which included a dormitory before the onset of COVID 19, it became evident on many an occasion, that not only are the Mogiyas looked down upon by upper castes, but they are also looked down upon by communitites considered a part of Dalit society ( such as the Bairwas etc.) Equally revealing was how some Mogiya students refused to eat, drink, and live with students from similar communities such as the Kalbelias and Bhopas, whom they considered untouchable. Today there are 352 nomadic and denotified tribes in the country, whose population is approximately 10-11 crores, they struggle to stay connected with their traditions, and are disenfranchised. The government is making an effort, however, all that is required for such tremendous change is not easily available in this resource-deficient country. Yet, where else can one get their community identity changed for a paltry sum of 2500 rupees?
Fortunately for the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve’s wildlife, the younger generations of Nathu Bawariya’s family have now forgotten their traditional hunting skills, and acquired a formal education, along with identity certificates as a result of a cleverness far more reminiscent of their grandfather’s nemesis Kajod Singh. Today, they will not be duped by opportunistic locals, but in all likelihood, will make the government dizzy.
This article is based on factual information, and personal observations of 4 generations of a Bawariya/Mogiya family in the vicinity of the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve.
Raj and Born Criminals Crime, gender, and sexuality in criminal prosecutions, by Louis A. Knafla. Published by Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002. ISBN 0-313-31013-0. Page 124
Draft List of Denotified Tribes, Nomadic tribes and Semi-nomadic tribes in India. Government of Rajasthan. National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-nomadic tribes – Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment
Lectures on some criminal tribes of India and religious mendicants By George Whitty Gayer. Published in Nagpur – 1909
Dr. Dharmendra Khandal (L) has worked as a conservation biologist with Tiger Watch – a non-profit organisation based in Ranthambhore, for the last 16 years. He spearheads all anti-poaching, community-based conservation and exploration interventions for the organisation.
Mr. Ishan Dhar (R) is a researcher of political science in a think tank. He has been associated with Tiger Watch’s conservation interventions in his capacity as a member of the board of directors.
बाघों के मध्य होने वाले संघर्ष के बारे में तो सभी जानते हैं परन्तु कई बार कुछ तनाव की स्थिति में संघर्ष को टालते हुए देखा गया हैं जैसे कि, इस चित्र कथा में दर्शाया गया है।
एक शाम रणथम्भोर में एक बाघिन माँ (T19) ने अपने दो शावकों के साथ सांभर हिरन का शिकार किया और एक जल श्रोत के पास बैठ कर उसे खाया और फिर पानी पीकर वहीँ बैठ आराम करने लग गए। कुछ समय बाद वहाँ एक अन्य नर बाघ (T104) आया जिसे पानी पीना था।
काफी समय तक खड़े रहने के बाद नर बाघ वहीँ पास में लेट गया परन्तु बाघिन और उसके शावक, नर बाघ और अपने भोजन पर सतर्क नज़र रहे वहीँ बैठे रहे व पानी से बाहर नहीं निकले।
प्यास से व्याकुल बाघ कई बार कोशिश करता रहा पानी में जाने की परन्तु बाघिन और शावकों ने उसे डरा कर दूर कर दिया।
यह संघर्ष पूरी रात चला और प्यास से परेशान बाघ समझ चूका था कि, यहाँ उसे पानी नहीं मिलेगा इसीलिए अंत में वो वहां से चला गया और लगभग दो किमी दूर एक अन्य जल श्रोत पर जाकर उसने अपनी प्यास बुझाई।
बाघ को वन पारिस्थितिक तंत्र का शीर्ष शिकारी माना जाता है परन्तु कई बार अन्य जानवरों के साथ मुठभेड़ में बाघ को भी हार माननी पड़ती है। ऐसी ही एक घटना वर्ष 2011, अप्रैल माह में रणथम्भौर बाघ अभयारण्य में हुई। ज़ोन 6 में कालापानी एनीकट के पास चट्टानी पठार पर, एक बाघ और बाघिन का जोड़ा बैठा हुआ था कि, तभी एक भालू माँ अपनी पीठ पर दो बच्चे लिए बाघों की जोड़ी की ओर चल रही थी, और बाघिन आगे होकर उससे भिड़ने के लिए गई। जब तक भालू को एहसास होता कि आसपास बाघ है तब तक बाघिन उसके बिलकुल करीब पहुँच चुकी थी।
भालू माँ गंभीर संकट में फस चुकी थी, परन्तु उसके बच्चों ने खुद को माँ कि पीठ पर चिपका लिया और माँ ने तुरंत बाघिन पर हमला कर दिया।
और लड़ाई के लिए अपने दो पैरों पर खड़ी हो गई और तेज़-तेज़ आवाज़े लगी। भालू और बाघिन के बीच तेज़ चिल्लाहट में गरमा-गर्मी हुई, जिसे निसंदेह भालू माँ ने जीत लिया और बाघिन जल्दबाजी में पीछे हटने लगी।
तभी पास में खड़ा नर बाघ जो काफी देर से मुठभेड़ को देख रहा था, अपनी शक्ति दिखाने के लिए आगे बढ़ा, परन्तु भालू माँ ने उस पर भी अपना क्रोध दिखाया।
बाघ वहां से दूर चले गए और भालू माँ भी अपने बच्चों को वहां से लेकर चली गई।
यह पूरी घटना कुल 2 मिनट में हुई, जहाँ शुरुआत में लग रहा था कि भालू माँ गंभीर संकट में फस चुकी है और वहीँ कुछ सेकेंड्स में उसने पुरे संघर्ष को नियंत्रित कर लिया और बाघों को वहां से भगा कर अपनी और अपने बच्चों कि रक्षा करी। रणथम्भौर में इस प्रकार की घटना कई बार देखी गयी, परन्तु यह घटना शानदार तरीके से फोटोग्राफ कर दर्ज़ भी की गयी।
बाघ हमेशा पानी में सावधानी से प्रवेश करता है क्योंकि पानी में अनजान खतरे हो सकते हैं। यहाँ एक बाघिन अपने दो शावकों के साथ रणथम्भोर के एक तालाब के किनारे खड़ी होती है, जहाँ से उसे पानी के मध्य स्थित एक छोटे टापू पर जाना है।
तभी एक शावक छलांग लगा कर उस टापू पर पहुंच जाता है।
शावक को आगे जाता देखा उसकी सुरक्षा में बाघिन को भी उसके पीछे जाना पड़ता है, लेकिन तभी बाघिन को पानी में एक मगरमछ की झलक दिखाई देती है।
वो तुरंत शावकों को वापस जाने के लिए मोड़ लेती है। इस बार सबसे आगे बाघिन रहती है, परन्तु उसका पूरा ध्यान पीछे रहे उसके शावकों पर ही होता है।
माँ के पीछे शावक भी छलांग लगाते हैं पहला शावक पानी में गिर जाता है जिसे देख बाघिन चिंतित हो जाती है और परन्तु शावक तुरंत पानी से बाहर निकल जाता है।
दोनों शावक सही सलामत अपनी माँ तक पहुंच जाते हैं और वो तीनों वहां से चले जाते हैं।
The Caracal (Caracal caracal) is among the most widespread small cats in the world. However, knowledge of its conservation status and ecology in its Asian range countries is minimal and severely outdated. Consistent reports however do originate from India, Israel and Iran. The Caracal has interestingly been considered rare in India for a little more than three centuries. In 1671, President Gerald Aungier, British East India Company Officer who became the second Governor of Bombay, was presented a Caracal by the Mughal General Diler Khan in exchange for a pair of English greyhounds. Even back then, Aungier was made aware of what a rarity the Caracal was in India and thus arranged to have it shipped back to England. Naturalists have continued to comment on the Caracal’s rarity in India since then to the present day, with some even going as far as to suggest that it is on the verge of extinction.
However, little is known of the Caracal’s ecology in India during the last four centuries. In order to understand whether the species has indeed experienced a decline in India, Dr. Dharmendra Khandal and Ishan Dhar of Ranthambhore based NGO, Tiger Watch and Dr. G.V. Reddy, recently retired as Head of Forest Forces for the state of Rajasthan conducted a study on the Historic and current extent of occurrence for the Caracal in India published in the most recent special issue on small wild cats in the Journal of Threatened Taxa. This is the culmination of two yearlong effort, which involved the review of several books and journals as well as sourcing and interacting with individuals from all walks of life who might have crossed paths with this elusive animal in India.
Cover photo of December month edition of Journal of Threatened Taxa
Despite the Caracal’s rarity, it has an extraordinarily rich history with humans in India. The Caracal was prized for its ability to hunt birds mid-flight. The vernacular name, Caracal, originates from the Turkic word Karakulak, which literally translates to ‘black-ear’, drawing emphasis on its long black tufted ears. In India, the Caracal is vernacularly known by its Persian name, Siyagosh, which also directly translates to ‘black-ear’. A fable from the Sanskrit text, the Hitopadesa, focuses on a small wild cat named Dirgha-karan or ‘long-eared’ preying on a bird’s chicks. This is the closest we come to what could possibly be a Caracal in Sanskrit literature. In fact, it was only in 1953, that a Sanskrit name, sas-karan or ‘rabbit like ears’ was proposed as a part of a broader attempt at formulating Sanskrit nomenclature for the fauna of India, Myanmar and Sri Lanka following the Linnaean system of classification.
The Caracal was first used as a coursing animal in India during the Delhi Sultanate. In the 14th century, Sultan Firoz Shah Tughlaq established a ‘Siyah-Goshdar Khana’ for the maintenance of his vast collection of coursing Caracals. The Third Mughal Emperor Akbar also used the Caracal extensively for coursing. It was during the Akbar’s reign that the Caracal also began to be represented in illustrated simplified Persian illustrations of Sanskrit, Arabic and Turkic texts literature such as Anvar-i-Suhayli, Tutinama, as well as Persian classics such as the Khamsa-e-Nizami and Shahnameh. The Caracal’s extensive use historically as a coursing animal and the lack of a Sanskrit name led to some questioning whether the species is indigenous to India at all. However, in 1982, a scientist with the ZSI, Mranomoy Ghosh re-examined a skull fragment purported to have been the earliest fossil of a domestic cat in India. The fragment had been collected from Harappa in 1930 and had been erroneously identified as that of the domestic cat. Ghosh reviewed the skull and discovered that it in fact belonged to a Caracal. This fossil record is India’s oldest Caracal finding, dating to 3000-2000 BC and establishing that the Caracal was present in the Indian subcontinent during the Indus Valley Civilization.
The vernacular name, Caracal, originates from the Turkic word Karakulak, which emphasis on its long black tufted ears. (Photo: Dr. Dharmendra Khandal)
However, it is possible that the Caracal’s rarity can be explained by landscape-level anthropogenic changes that have occurred in India since at least 1880. Examining changes to the Caracal’s extent of occurrence in India is a step towards understanding how such change could have impacted the species. In this endeavour, the authors of the study attempted to collate all records of the Caracal in India from the start of recorded history until April 2020, map its historical extent of occurrence and evaluate any changes to its present extent of occurrence. An endeavour made all the more challenging by the prevalence of coursing Caracals historically as well as the at times frustratingly elusive behaviour of wild Caracals.
The authors search entailed an extensive review of literature from the onset of recorded history to the year 2020, spanning almost four centuries. This included the writings of naturalists, zoologists, natural historians, historians, forest officers, gazetteers, chroniclers, erstwhile royalty and army officers. An examination of Caracal specimens deposited at the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), the Natural History Museum in London, private trophy collections in India and other museums was also conducted, along with open-ended interviews with forest officers and biologists who observed the Caracal in the field and people who provided photographs. The authors collated and categorized reports according to their reliability in the following manner: A.) confirmed reports based on tangible evidence like photographs, specimens including animal carcasses or body parts that can be accessed currently; B.) confirmed reports based on direct sightings of live or dead individuals, specimens submitted to museums that are no longer accessible or missing, photographic reports that are no longer accessible, destroyed or missing; C.) confirmed reports that indicate Caracal occurrence through species specific information which includes species description and the provision of distinct vernacular names; D.) unconfirmed or questionable reports without any accompanying description, photos or erroneous description.
Indeed 33 reports were considered ‘unconfirmed’ as they were questionable or erroneous. Misidentification with the Jungle Cat is also an ever -present challenge, with erroneous reports continuing to be perpetuated to this day, simply because they have been published. The authors strictly did not include any reports of captive or coursing Caracals as their wild origins were unknown unless explicitly stated. In addition, a regular camera trapping exercise carried out by Tiger Watch’s Village Wildlife Volunteers in and around the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve since 2015 was also drawn upon. For this exercise, camera trapping is carried out by trained pastoral herders monitoring tigers outside the Tiger Reserve. All reports gleaned from this search were geotagged onto maps to determine the historical and current extent of occurrence areas.
In India there are only two potentially viable populations of Caracal, one in the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve and other in the Kutch district of Gujarat. (Photo: Dr. Dharmendra Khandal)
The authors collated 134 reports starting from the year 1616 until April 2020. The Caracal was historically present in 13 Indian states and in 9 out of 26 biotic provinces. Since 2001, the Caracal’s presence has been reported in the three states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh and four biotic provinces, with only two possible viable populations in the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan and the district of Kutch in Gujarat. Prior to 1947, the Caracal was reported from an area of 793,927 km2. Between 1948 and 2000, the Caracal’s reported extent of occurrence in India decreased by 47.99%. From 2001 to 2020, the reported extent of occurrence further decreased by 95.95%, with current presence restricted to 16,709km2, less than 5% of the Caracal’s reported extent of occurrence in the 1948 to 2000 period and just 2.17% of the period before 1947.
In Rajasthan, there have been a total of 24 Caracal reports since the year 2001. 17 of these reports are backed by photographic evidence. 15 of which are from Ranthambhore, along with a photograph taken from Sariska in 2004 and a camera trap picture from the Keoladeo Ghana National Park in Bharatpur in 2017. However, from 2015 to April 2020, the Village Wildlife Volunteers obtained 176 camera trap pictures of Caracals from 6 locations in and around the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. Their camera trapping efforts even conclusively established the Caracal’s presence in the district of Dholpur in Rajasthan. This is the largest repository of photographs for the Caracal in India and quite possibly its entire Asian range. With Ranthambhore being one of two possible viable populations in India, the Village Wildlife Volunteers will be indispensable to any forthcoming conservation intervention concerning the Caracal in India. Since 2001, there have been only 9 photographic Caracal records from Kutch and no photographic records from Madhya Pradesh.
Camera trap photo taken by Village Wildlife Volunteers (PC: Tiger Watch)
It is possible that the Caracal might still be present but underreported in states like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and the eastern parts of India. Targeted surveys will be required to further verify and adjust the putative reduction in range size established by this study. With the exception of a handful of studies, there has been virtually no contribution to the knowledge of Caracal ecology in India in the 21st century. Surveys on Caracal population size, reproduction, mortality, home range sizes, and prey dynamics are the need of the hour. A review of just how the categorization of land as a wasteland, impacts the Caracal, which is a scrub dwelling species is also urgently required. Long-term studies focusing on the movement patterns of Caracals to determine and establish wildlife corridors that are suitable to connect the remaining fragmented population units are equally essential. The authors of the study hope to inspire conservationists to join the fight to prevent the Caracal from becoming extinct in India.
Mr. Ishan Dhar (L) is a researcher of political science in a think tank. He has been associated with Tiger Watch’s conservation interventions in his capacity as a member of the board of directors.
Dr. Dharmendra Khandal (R) has worked as a conservation biologist with Tiger Watch – a non-profit organisation based in Ranthambhore, for the last 16 years. He spearheads all anti-poaching, community-based conservation and exploration interventions for the organisation.