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The ‘tiger widows’ of Sundarbans: Caught between the jungle and the rising se

More than a year on, his wife mourns the unhappy collision of circumstances that led her 68-year-old husband quite literally into the jaws of death - climate change that turned the waters saline, making agriculture unviable, shrinking tiger habitat in the ecologically fragile region and the Covid aftermath that robbed her children of their work.

"My husband went so deep into the jungle to earn more. My sons are migrant workers and they had to return from Chennai during the pandemic after losing their jobs. It was becoming very difficult to support the family. Their father went without telling anyone so that he could collect honey to sell in the market," Lakshmi told PTI. The 52-year-old, who has joined the rank of the marshland's 'tiger widows' with her husband's tragic death, said he left his home in the Sundarbans' Kakmari village to go into the restricted Marichjhapi jungle, home to many tigers, to collect better quality raw honey.

According to data collated by GGBK, 30 tiger attacks took place in 2019, the year before the pandemic.

Nabin Sarkar, 59, was dragged by the tiger into water from his boat in August last year when he was trying to catch small fish in the shallow waters of the Marichjhapi jungle.

According to a 2017 research paper titled Analyzing Human Wildlife Conflicts In Sundarban by Chandan Surabhi Das, associate professor of geography at Barasat government college, between 1985 and 2009, 789 persons were attacked by tigers out of which 666 succumbed to their injuries.

"The restricted areas are dangerous and have a thriving tiger population, we have 'tiger fence' to ensure separation between the tiger habitat and human-inhabited areas to prevent such incursions but even then people enter illegally," an official said.

With their husbands lost to the big cat on the prowl, the lives of Sundarbans' tiger widows have become even tougher.

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