Good people in a rotten system
Calcutta sounds like a fable in a song, but in reality, it is where John,
my colleague and successor, was murdered. He was on the job for only three
days when he got his throat slashed. As an undercover investigator targeting
the illegal wildlife trade, especially in tiger parts, his real name was
unknown, even to me, nor mine to him. We were just John and James to each
other. All I know is that he was Chinese American, while his predecessor
James - real name Anthony Marr - is Chinese Canadian, and how sincere he was
in helping to save the Bengal tiger from being poached out of existence,
while its habitat continues to dwindle due to human pressure.
It would have been me who got killed had I not been called to the
Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh - the "Tiger State" - to
investigate a dreadful wave of poaching which wiped out10 of their 40 tigers
in 12 months. What John and I were after was the identities of the trading
party/ies, the location/s of the loot, and the routes and means by which it
was transported to its destination, usually China. Once these were
uncovered, we would inform police, who would then go and make arrests and
seizures. How we did it is confidential. Suffice to say that we were both
posing as Chinese buyers. During my stint into enclaves where lone policemen
dared not tread, accompanied by middlemen who would sell their mothers for a
rhino horn, I've been shown sacks of tiger bone and rolls of tiger skin,
just as I did in the villages surrounding the tiger reserves. I would then
agonize on just how much more pressure the remaining tigers - less than 2000
in India - could take.
Since I cannot get into details in these operations, let me tell you a
story which illustrates something different altogether - cast
discrimination. The safe-house I was given to stay at for the two-week
operation was on the 4th floor of a wood-frame building. My room was in the
center of the building and windowless. There was a front room inhabited by
my "servants", a middle-aged couple of the Untouchable cast, which opened
out to the street, where the temperature, even in March, was a humid 115F+.
I was already sweating profusely when I was being led up the 4 flights of
rickety stairs by the "woman servant". But when I was led into the front
room, I was staggered. It was like a hotter oven inside an already sizzling
one, easily 125F, no less. "How the hell am I gonna stand 2 weeks of this?!"
But as soon as I entered my room, aaaaahhhh, a cool little oasis, 70F, no
more. And then, I saw the air-condtioner mounted in the wall between the two
rooms, cool air into mine, hot air into theirs. I invited them to come into
my room to cool off, but they humbly declined. Apparently, mine was not a
realm permitted to Untouchables. I tried in the first night to keep my door
open so that some cool air to reach them, but they quietly closed it for my
privacy. Good people in a rotten system.
Good people in a rotten system. I'm sure we all can relate to it.
Anthony Marr, founder and president
Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)
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