TOM PIETRASIK | Photographer

Archive for June 2009

TIGER POACHING IN INDIA

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A two year old female tiger known as T19 and tourists at Rantambore National Park. © Tom Pietrasik 2008

A two year old female tiger known as T19 and tourists at Rantambore National Park.
Rajasthan, India © Tom Pietrasik 2008

A story I illustrated on tiger conservation is published in the current edition of National Geographic Adventure magazine and their website features a slideshow of my photographs here.

Kankwadi village in Sariska. The presence of humans inside the national park is a potential threat to tiger conservation. © Tom Pietrasik 2008

Kankwadi village in Sariska. Humans living inside the national park are a potential threat to tiger conservation.
Rajasthan, India © Tom Pietrasik 2008

Writer Paul Kvinta and I spent ten days working on this back in November. We had originally planned to follow the relocation of a tiger from from Ranthambore to Sariska national parks in western India. But chasing tigers isn’t easy and after three days without success the park authorities decided to abandoned the idea. Paul and I had to come up with an alternative focus for our feature. So instead of hanging out in the pleasant but rather staid company of the park officials who were organising the relocation, we began following Dharmendra Khandal, a maverick anti-poaching activist who heads a small NGO called Tiger Watch. Critical of the park authorities and as a consequence shunned by them, Khandal runs his own show chasing down the poachers and gun-makers who have recently wreaked such havok on the tiger populations of Ranthambore and Sariska.

Park wardens try to track a tiger in Sariska Park. Sariska's two tigers were introduced into the park in July 2008. © Tom Pietrasik 2008

Park wardens try to track a tiger in Sariska Park. Sariska’s two tigers were introduced into the park in July 2008.
Rajasthan, India © Tom Pietrasik 2008

Unlike the idle Victorian aristocrats that preceded them, todays tiger-hunters have plenty of motivation – albeit misguided – to hunt. Poachers in western India are almost exclusively drawn from the Mogia community. This landless caste are not only impoverished but they are completely shunned by mainstream society. It might sound obscene but Mogias are defined as a criminal-caste and as such they have to endure the distain of others higher up the pecking-order. The parks authorities are as guilty as anyone else for fueling the prejudice that condemns Mogia people to such desolate lives. Not only is this of course wrong it but it also happens to completely undermine the anti-poaching effort.

The wife of a gun-maker assists police as they search for evidence at her home in Pilukhera village, 40km from Rantambore National Park. © Tom Pietrasik 2008

The wife of a gun-maker assists police as they search for evidence at her home near Rantambore National Park.
Rajasthan, India © Tom Pietrasik 2008

In order to hunt a tiger, you must first be able to track it. It is these same tracking skills that are central to the task of monitoring and ultimately protecting tiger populations. It is no accident that those most adept at tracking happen to be the Mogia.

Dharmendra  Khandal of Tiger Watch  runs into police while<br /> driving to Mogia villagers on the edge of Rantambore National Park. © Tom Pietrasik 2008

Dharmendra Khandal of Tiger Watch runs into police while driving to meet Mogia villagers on the edge of Rantambore National Park. Rajasthan, India © Tom Pietrasik 2008

What better way to address the challenge of tiger-conservation than employ Mogias in the parks service? Not only would this drain the pool from which hunters are recruited but there’s a good chance that former poachers would become the kind of local advocates for conservation that instill real grass-roots change. Unfortunately there are plenty of people in positions of influence that consider confronting caste prejudice as setting a dangerous precedent.

While this sorry state of affairs continues, it is a bleak future that beckons for the Mogia people – and with them the poor tiger too.

A female tiger marks her territory in Rantambore National Park. © Tom Pietrasik 2008

A female tiger marks her territory in Rantambore National Park.
Rajasthan, India © Tom Pietrasik 2008


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Written by Tom Pietrasik

June 26, 2009 at 8:19 am

Posted in Uncategorized

INDIAN HEALTHCARE

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A mother with her newborn baby on the labour ward at Shivpuri District Hospital. Madhya Pradesh, India. © Tom Pietrasik 2009

A mother with her newborn baby on the labour ward at Shivpuri District Hospital.
Madhya Pradesh, India. © Tom Pietrasik 2009

Exactly six months ago I spent my first night ever in a hospital after contracting dengue fever. The experience was not at all pleasant but I was lucky enough to be insured and was admitted to a room in one of Delhi’s premier private hospitals. For ordinary Indians, the kind of care I received is simply unheard of. Two distinct worlds exist side by side when it comes to healthcare in this country. The vast majority must make do with an under resourced and oversubscribed public service while a tiny and wealthy minority benefit from kind of top-grade care I received.

A woman, accompanied by her mother in law, heads toward the labour ward at Shivpuri District Hospital. Madhya Pradesh, India. © Tom Pietrasik 2009

A woman, accompanied by her mother in law, heads toward the labour ward at Shivpuri District Hospital.
Madhya Pradesh, India. © Tom Pietrasik 2009

The sorry state of India’s public hospitals was confirmed to me last week when I visited several public health centres in Madhya Pradesh. In the process of photographing a story on maternal health (see two photos above) I discovered that the Kolaras community health centre, 25km from Shivpuri town, had been without phenol to clean the floors for 45 days. And in Shivpuri District Hospital, women and babies who should have been in the labour ward were sleeping in a filthy corridor next to some very smelly toilets. When on my final morning in Shivpuri hospital I noticed that all the beds had clean sheets on them, it should have come as no surprise that the district collector was scheduled to make a visit later that day.

In surgery at Delhi’s private Apollo Hospital. New Delhi, India. © Tom Pietrasik 2007

In surgery at Delhi’s private Apollo Hospital.
New Delhi, India. © Tom Pietrasik 2007

In 2004 the Congress-led government committed itself to spending 3 percent of GDP on public healthcare. Five years later they have achieved a miserly 1.1 percent. An Oxfam-supported campaign called Wada Na Todo Abhiyan is holding the government to account and fighting the injustice in India’s healthcare. This is a campaign that deserves all the support it can get.

Written by Tom Pietrasik

June 17, 2009 at 11:22 am

Posted in Uncategorized

ALCOHOL IN INDIA

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The morning after a night of heavy drinking, a still-annebriated pimp keeps lookout over his brothel. Andhra Pradesh, India. ©Tom Pietrasik 2009

The morning after a night of heavy drinking, a still-annebriated pimp keeps lookout over his brothel.
Andhra Pradesh, India. ©Tom Pietrasik 2009

I had the misfortune of working with an alcoholic translator-fixer last week. I knew it the moment he greeted me at the airport arrival gate. The sunglasses he was wearing may have hidden the bloodshot eyes but they couldn’t mask the sickly stench that hung over him and lingered for the rest of that day. It might have been easier had I confronted him there and then and found somebody else. But this was a remote part of India and I had few alternatives. Besides, I actually liked the chap. We ended up spending all of last week working together and for the most part he was sober. He was generous, smart and worked hard on what was a challenging subject: the lives of sex-workers. He had a good grasp of my needs as a photographer and his easy-going manner meant that we were able to build a trust amongst those I photographed.

Drunk men beside a fleet of Kolkata's ubiquitous yellow Hindustan Ambassador taxis. Kolkata, India ©Tom Pietrasik 2009

Drunk men beside a fleet of Kolkata’s ubiquitous yellow Hindustan Ambassador taxis.
Kolkata, India ©Tom Pietrasik 2009

Alcohol is a divisive issue in India. For the wealthy elite, a drink is undeniably de rigueur. And in my experience military officers would consider an evening wasted if denied the company of an Old Monk or Blue Nun. In contrast the sight of a middle-class Mrs Gupta – or Dr Seth – sipping on a shandy would raise serious doubts among the neighbours.

Members of the Delhi Wine Club gather at an exclusive restaurant for dinner and one or two glasses of Sula Red. New Delhi, India. ©Tom Pietrasik 2008

Members of the Delhi Wine Club gather at an exclusive restaurant for dinner and one or two glasses of Sula Red.
New Delhi, India. ©Tom Pietrasik 2008

For many working-class men – but almost no women – alcohol provides the only means to escape lives which are often harsh and monotonous. Of course for the families of those who soak themselves in the stuff it does nothing but extend their pain. I didn’t quite appreciate the significance of alcohol as an issue in India until a trip to rural Maharashtra last year. I was photographing a workshop intended to encourage the involvement of women in local decision-making. When asked by a social-worker what they might do if they were able to change one thing about their village, those in attendance were unanimous: Shut down the liquor store!

Written by Tom Pietrasik

June 7, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized