An Open Letter from the Chenchu tribe of Amrabad tiger Reserve

Chenchu woman from Pecheru village. The village was evicted in the ’80s.The villagers tell us that of the 750 families that used to live in the village, only 160 families survived after the eviction took place. Many starved to death. Nagarjunsagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve. © Survival

To whom it may concern

To whom it may concern

For people who live in cities, the forest is a dangerous place – a place where wild and dangerous animals live. But for many centuries we Chenchus have been living in harmony with these wild and dangerous animals. We see the well-being of the forest as our duty, we protect the animals and plants of this wild forest without harming them. This forest is our home. The flora and fauna of this forest are part of our family. We have never had, and never will have, the slightest wish to leave our home. Who would go out and leave their home? How can we leave our home where we have been living for so many years? Without us the forest won’t survive, and without the forest we won’t survive. Staying in a town, even for a couple of days, is a nightmare for us. If you are asking us to live there forever then we are sure to die. Nobody has the right to send us out of this forest, and if you are doing that then indirectly you are asking us to die.

The freedom we had during the rule of the Maharajahs and the British was lost after our country got Independence. While outsiders recognized our importance, and gave us freedom to live in the forest, our own countrymen have failed to do this. We lost our freedom to our country’s freedom.

There are many allegations that, because we are hunters, the wild animals’ populations are diminishing. This is absolutely wrong, and we totally deny this false allegation. We have always treated the animals as our family members. We love them as we love our children. If a tiger or a leopard kills our cattle, we don’t feel disappointed or angry, instead we feel as if our brothers have visited our homes and they have eaten what they wanted. We never kill wild animals. We only eat the remains of animals killed by our elder brothers, the great cats.

If we are in this forest, we are safe, we are sure nothing will happen to us. But if we leave this forest then we will be lost. We have been living in this forest without any relationship with the outside world. Among us we have pure love and strong relationships. But outside it is not the same. Everything is related to money. If you don’t have money there is no food and no water. No money, no house and no clothes. It’s a shameless world out there where nothing is pure. Right from the air we breathe to the relationships we establish, everything is impure there. But that is not the situation here in this forest. Our ancestors taught us only one thing: love and respect the forest and it will take care of you. In the same way, here we don’t need money to eat and to live. We eat and live in harmony with whatever is available. Being used to the pure and fresh air of the forest all our lives, it would be difficult for us to live in a polluted, foul smelling, noisy environment. We would get sick and be the first people to die. If we ask the people who live outside to come and live the rest of their lives in the forest, will they be able to live there? In the same way, we also cannot live in the world outside our forest, leaving our home. We are happy with our way of life.

We do not drink alcohol and even those who do only drink when they get some and that is only about once a month. Back in the towns liquor is available everywhere and there is no doubt many of us would spend all our money on liquor and that would put our families at risk. The thought of that frightens us – we don’t want to see it. We won’t get the safety we have here anywhere else. No doubt most of us would die of depression, unable to cope with a new life, and the rest of us would die slow, horrible deaths.

Since our ancestors’ time, we have been born in this forest and we have died and will die in this very forest. This forest is our breath and our life. This forest is our right and no one can take this right from us and break our bond. If anyone tries to do this, we shall fight against it till our last breath. We will shed every single drop of our blood to protect our rights and our forest. Every living being will die one day, so, we don’t mind dying early for this cause.

Please see us as a species living in the wild, a “species in human form”, a species with humanity, love and care. According to the rules, species living in the wild should stay in the forest and so should we.

Whoever reads this letter, we only request one thing: if possible, please try to help us. But do not do anything which will harm us or our survival.

Thank you

T. Guruvaiah
Amrabad Tiger Reserve
Nallamala Forest
Telangana State, India