It is not every day that you hear of someone switching from one end of the conservation spectrum to the other, from being a hunter to saving the hunted. Arif Siddique is one such rare individual being honoured for his commitment to conservation. Here is his story.
Arif is from a family of hunters and in childhood, his family insisted that he accompany them on their hunting trips. Arif recalls that even when he was young, hunting held nothing for him. Soon, he began to voice his protest against hunting.
As part of his work as a PWD engineer, Arif went to Arunachal Pradesh. That was a homecoming of sorts for him. He could not have felt more at home among the forests inspired and uplifted him. He was in love with his new home. He began to use his camera to chronicle, shooting butterflies to impress upon people the importance of their existence and the significance of saving their habitat. As they say, water found its own level and he met people working for conservation and eco-tourism
Arif chose a field that does not require major funding. He connected with people at the grassroots and his profession as an engineer with a government department provided him with ample opportunities to reach out to people and spread the issues that concern him. On several occasions, his work has found the support of local leaders and legislators. Sometimes, when he needed it, they have come forward with financial assistance.
Working conditions are rather different in Arunachal Pradesh and Arif found he did not have to go too far out of his way to spread the word. He could spread information even over the Internet or work with a school or get a word in sideways while helping them with their day to day problems. He does realise that raising awareness is not enough since implementing the information he has shared, is also important. Social media has made his work easier.
Work on ground has not been quite so simple. As he says, “It’s always a difficult job to stop hunting or felling of trees in an area where people are dependent on forests for their daily life. But hunting as a hobby has declined in the last few years as the younger generation is now educated.” He is relieved that the youth would rather chase “fashionable things” than hunt. Yet, the task ahead will be to dissuade villagers in remote areas.
The good news is, there is no jungle mafia or poacher in Arunachal Pradesh. People often hunt because they have no viable alternative to earn their income. So, Arif is trying to get them involved in Eco Tourism.
Arif hopes to promote Eco Tourism to make it community-based so that the local people can get some sustainable livelihood from it. Without that, any conversation effort will be in vain. Pleasantly surprised to get the WIPRO-NFS Sparrow Award, he also believes his responsibilities have increased now since more is expected from him.