In 2017, the photograph of an elephant mother-calf duo desperately trying to escape the flaming fireballs and crackers that were being hurled at them by a jeering mob, caught the world’s attention.
Titled ‘Hell is Here,’ this poignant shot sheds light on the disconcerting reality of man versus wildlife conflicts and the extreme measures taken by humans to drive animals away from their land.
The photographer behind the picture was Biplab Hazra.
Biplab hails from the town of Bishnupur in West Bengal’s Bankura district. He owns a brick kiln business and took to wildlife photography in the early 2000s.
“I’d spent my childhood roaming in the forests near my town. As the years passed, I observed how development projects were slowly encroaching into the wildlife corridors and how animals, especially elephants, were the worst hit. Perhaps that was when the need to raise awareness on this grave concern took root in me,” says Biplab to The Better India.
After purchasing a camera in 2000, Biplab spent the next couple of years capturing the plight of the elephants around him.
Throwing flaming tar balls, crackers and sharpened rods at these animals was a step that villagers in the region usually took to drive them away from farms. And the monstrous practice agonised Biplab beyond comprehension.
“I’d tried to urge the people and even forest officials on multiple occasions to stop these practices, but found no success. I often wondered if we would ever treat our children this way, and I couldn’t remain silent. I wanted to do anything in my capacity to end these attacks, and I thought nothing would be more powerful than photographs,” he remembers.
He decided to enter his photographs that captured the conflict in competitions—both national and international ones.
While the country was yet to recognise Biplab’s work, his ‘Hell is Here’ photograph emerged the winner of the Bengaluru-based Nature InFocus (NiF) photography contest in 2017. He was also presented with the photographer of the year award.
That was just the beginning. The hard-hitting impact of his photograph became truly pronounced when Biplab was named the wildlife and conservation magazine Sanctuary Asia’s photographer of the year.
And if you are still wondering about the power of photography in raising awareness and if ‘Hell is Here’ led to anything at all, here’s the good news.
“Last year, the Supreme Court held the practice of using spikes and fireballs to chase away elephants ‘barbaric’ and ordered forest departments to take immediate actions. Things are changing,” shares Biplab.
Yet another photograph captured by Biplab went viral last year and ended up garnering many accolades. Titled ‘Impossible Odds,’ one can see a herd of elephants trying to cross a railway track in the shot, as a calf perched at the edge of the station platform struggles to get down.
What makes the picture even more heartbreaking is the fact that the elephants hadn’t even ventured into the human settlement.
“The railway track ran right through the centre of the elephant corridor in Bishnupur. Where do these animals go when encroachments pop up in their very habitats? I wanted to capture how our development projects and industrial activities come at a rather tragic cost,” adds Biplab.
The photograph earned Biplab the certificate of merit in 2018 Sanctuary Asia Wildlife Photography awards as well as a special mention by NiF.
He was also sent on a visit to the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya last year by the Karnataka State Tourism department in recognition of his outstanding contribution to wildlife photography and conservation.
While photography has always been a passion for Biplab, he is clear about utilising it for the cause of conservation and more importantly, to raise awareness.
Biplab shares that he has spent many sleepless days and nights, some even without food, in this pursuit, but doesn’t plan on stopping at any point.
He also shared an interesting solution with us that can put an end to the brutal practice of using spikes and fireballs to chase away elephants.
“I’d learnt about this practice in Kenya where beehives were set up in areas near the farms. Instead of causing physical harm and mental trauma, bees could chase away the elephants naturally. It works well both ways and puts an end to suffering on both sides. I’ve been trying to raise awareness on this method and hope it will finally put an end to the cruel practices,” he concludes.
We laud Biplab Hazra for his compassion towards the plight of elephants and his persistence in using his lens to raise awareness. We also hope that his endeavours lay the foundation for a world where man and wildlife can live in harmony once again.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)