On the night of June 4, 2005, in a village in Haryana, the police stopped a speeding Maruti Gypsy and Honda Accord. Sitting inside the Honda was former Indian cricket captain Mansur Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi. Inside the Maruti Gypsy were the carcasses of a blackbuck and two black-naped hares. The police also recovered some guns, a searchlight and other hunting equipment.
The next morning, the news was in every newspaper.
What was particularly shocking was the fact that 65-year-old Pataudi, or 'Tiger' as he is called, was part of a seven-member team allegedly involved in the criminal offence of poaching and hunting an animal high on the list of endangered species. What's more, Pataudi belonged to the league of test players and represented our country in a game that is called "gentlemanly" and famous for its team spirit. Worse still, in 1998, his actor son Saif Ali Khan was also accused of killing a blackbuck along with his Bollywood co-actor Salman Khan.
What do people mean when they say Pataudi is "addicted to hunting. It is in his blood," as was reported in one popular daily?
The call of the hunt
Why do people like Pataudi hunt despite the fact that, under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, if he is found guilty and convicted in court he could serve out a maximum sentence of seven years in prison, and a fine of Rs 10,000?
Is it because he thinks his royal background will somehow keep him safe? Or is it because this "passion for hunting" makes him ready to take risks? In that case we need to understand what this "passion" is all about.
According to psychiatrists hunters hunt because:
- The pleasure they get out of it gives them a sense of power.
- It's a way to assuage their sense of insecurity and craving for attention.
- It's a thrill that goes hand-in-hand with the desire for adventure, and breaking the rules.
- It builds up a macho self-image, a feeling of importance.
- There's the false assurance that instant killing does not cause pain.
At the end of a hunting expedition there is very little sense of guilt or fear of the law. The law becomes a 'paper tiger' that can do nothing to convict or punish the offender.
Does the law protect the hunter?
Not on paper. Apart from the maximum sentence, the minimum punishment is three years in prison and a fine of Rs 10,000.
The list of protected species is long. Among the animals listed are:
Mammals: Blackbuck, bear, tiger, Indian gazelle, Indian elephant, wild buffalo
Reptiles and amphibians: Gharial and leathery turtle
Birds: Large whistling teal, peacock
But some news never comes out in the open. For instance, in 1997, Pataudi shot 100 migratory birds in the Hokesar wetland in Jammu and Kashmir. This time, the law was on his side because he was the special guest of Farooq Abdullah, the then chief minister of Kashmir. Back in his home state it is widely known, though never officially reported, that Pataudi goes on hunting expeditions twice a week. It seems the nickname 'Tiger' was given to him because he killed a tiger with one shot at the age of 16. Stories about such hunts are widespread -- they become almost legendary so the law often turns a blind eye.
On the night of June 4, the law failed to do its duty when it did not arrest the Nawab despite the fact that the Wildlife Act empowers the police to arrest, without a warrant, anyone suspected of illegal hunting.
How brave is hunting?
Actually the passion for hunting is not restricted to celebrities and film stars. In Punjab, hunting is practised by the rich, the adventurous and anyone who loves to eat delicacies like venison, partridge or wild boar meat. So, rich farmers, landlords, even small-time traders and petty officials become hunters.
To understand the hunting instinct you have to know that it has an aura of glamour and bravado about it. In reality, there is nothing courageous or sportsmanlike about the game.
Hunting can be a cowardly act, often done with 'helpers' who scare and corner an animal before it is shot. Sometimes animals are made to run helter-skelter by using searchlights to confuse them. When they run in front of the vehicle, they are shot at close range. Landlords in Punjab buy prized pedigreed greyhounds and bull terriers to hunt wild boar. Did you know that some hunters buy birds like partridge, jungle fowl and quail in bulk from bird-catchers and then release them together to make them easy targets?
The myth of Man the Hunter
Pulitzer prize winning writer Jared Diamond, in his book The Third Chimpanzee, The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal (a funny, scary and deeply moving book), writes that the popular myth of Man the Hunter is false. We like to believe that man's evolution, and the "great leap forward" that made man what he is, was marked by big-game hunting. That hunting taught men how to cooperate with one another, share food and develop language.
Jared shows us that early homo sapiens were far from being mighty hunters. They used stone tools to acquire plant food and small animals; only occasionally did they hunt large animals.
Jared writes: "I still recall my first morning in the New Guinea highland, when I set out with a group of a dozen men armed with bows and arrows. As we passed a fallen tree, there was suddenly much excited shouting.Convinced that an enraged boar or kangaroo was about to come out fighting, I looked for a tree that I could climb to a perch of safety. Then I heard triumphant shrieks and out of the brush pile came two mighty hunters holding aloft their prey: two baby wrens, not quite able to fly.The rest of the day's catch consisted of a few frogs and many mushrooms."
As you can see, most heroic campfire stories are highly exaggerated!
Who's being hunted?
For two long weeks after June 4, Pataudi remained in hiding. When he did surrender before the police, and before he was granted bail, he looked like a cornered man. Not much different from the animals he hunts.
-- Suroopa Mukherjee