Legalising a legacy from long ago!
Columns, Over A Cup of Evening Tea

Legalising a legacy from long ago!

February 4, 2024

By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD

The recent proclamation of the State Government that the possession of all kinds of wildlife artifacts by citizens would be dealt with by taking very stern legal action, under the Wildlife Act, has become the cause for much concern among people who have been having wildlife artifacts, both small and big, in their households, over many decades.

This announcement certainly seems like a knee-jerk reaction from the Government to the solely media-created sensation that we saw a couple of months ago, when some high-profile people were depicted wearing ornaments that were purportedly made from tiger claws. That many of these supposedly expensive feline claws were only dirt-cheap fakes, made from humble buffalo horn, was an admission sheepishly made by their owners who had until then proudly flaunted them as the real stuff, acquired at exorbitant cost, commensurate with their status in society. This rather humiliating genu-flexion did not come easy to them and their false pride but there was just no other way to dodge the long arm of the law!

But a great many people who are likely to be affected by the recent announcement of the Government are in the process of prevailing upon it to grant them some kind of amnesty and allow them to retain what they now have with them. Needless to say, they only possess relics of the hunting done by their forefathers in a long bygone era, when hunting was a fully legitimate and even much-admired sport. That was the time when the commoners indulged in hunting animals for food and the elite did it both for food and sport.

A mounted Bison Head.

A third category, the royalty, did it not only for food and sport but also to pamper and please the primitive instincts of their overseas guests, who would certainly relish the thrill of themselves procuring what would become a part of the royal feast laid out for them, on the royal dining tables.

Although there was nothing very wrong in what they were doing during their times, considering the social traditions that prevailed during that era, what was certainly very wrong and even very painful, was the wanton killing that often went on in the name of sport. Hunting parties vying with each other as in any other sport, would end up indulging in what would be nothing short of massacres of unimaginable magnitude that would mindlessly and needlessly leave hundreds of animals and birds dead at their feet.

This is amply evident from the photographs we invariably see in every book that chronicles the lives of our Maharajas, Maharanis, Nawabs, Viceroys and their blue-blooded overseas guests.

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Taking high-profile guests of their era, on a tiger or lion hunt was considered a ‘must do’ activity without which their visits would never be complete, although the meat of these magnificent animals was never eaten, either by them or even by their most lowly aides or servants.

Coming to the present era, there is no denying that some amount of illegal hunting may still be going on in the hidden nooks and corners of our forests, fringing human habitation. But it is very unlikely that people indulging in such illegal and harshly punishable acts would be having the nerve to possess, let alone display, even the slightest evidence of their wrongdoings.

And, what we are talking about here is not the problem of illegal hunting but only about the possession by law-abiding citizens, of wildlife artifacts that are only the remnants of the hunting their ancestors did, generations ago, as a perfectly legal activity. Many of these possessions are well over a century old and there are a good many households all over the countryside which have them. And, why the descendants of these long-departed hunters would be so keen to hold on to these relics from the distant past, is because they hold them close to their hearts, solely for sentimental reasons.

In addition to being memories of their forefathers, these are all now very interesting conversation pieces, which become sources of recollections of a bygone era over fireside chats! They are not unlike the old fountain pens with no ink in them, or the older still pocket watches, that have long stopped ticking and which now just lie in our table drawers, or the elegant walking sticks that are only displayed on our drawing room walls which nobody takes along during their morning walks, but still remain the supports that our memories and recollections lean on!

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Over the years that have gone by, many of these objects have even acquired the status of being a part of the paraphernalia that is used in religious rituals in many people’s homes. It is perhaps for similar reasons that we find our sages and saints invariably depicted sitting in meditation, on tiger-skin or deer-skin mats. While that is how it has always been in the past, it is noteworthy that we find this very same tradition being followed even in the living present.

Now, with the Government planning to completely do away with the possession of all wildlife artifacts, will it deprive them too of this age-old traditional practice, which has come to be seen as a harmless privilege and status symbol, both by them and their devotees?

It is for these very same sentimental reasons that most people in possession of these wildlife artifacts are reluctant to part with them and are therefore prevailing upon the Government to take a more lenient view and give them one last chance to declare the presence of these vintage pieces in their possession and get them registered and duly legalised.

Although a provision to do this was made in the year 1972, when the prevailing Wildlife Protection Act came to be implemented and once again in the year 2003, not many people availed of this opportunity. This was most ostensibly because, unlike the present information era, that was the time when knowledge about changes in rules and regulations would often simply fail to reach the masses. So, this is a matter that has to be handled, not just by interpreting the existing rules in their strictest sense but rather by taking a more liberal and compassionate view, that will certainly go a long way in fostering much goodwill between the rulers and the ruled, of the present era!

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