New multimedia project documents the stories of the unsung environmental heroes

Oct 14, 2017, 11:39 IST | Krutika Behrawala

A new multimedia project documents the stories of the unsung heroes protecting India's natural corridors

Along with the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard, the arid landscape of Rajasthan's Desert National Park are also home to Sukhpali. The 30-year-old became the first female guard to be recruited on the field for the park's Sudasari range in 2013.

Sukhpali patrols the Sudasari range of the Desert National Park. Pics courtesy/Vibhor Yadav
Sukhpali patrols the Sudasari range of the Desert National Park. Pics courtesy/Vibhor Yadav

The challenges she faces - raising a daughter in the barren land, facing harsh weather and limited water supply - feature in Desired By The Dunes, a story published this week on collaborative digital storytelling platform, Mukha. It is the first in the series for Ranger Ranger, a new multimedia project that documents the lives of India's forest rangers.

A trap camera captures the Great Indian Bustard in the park
A trap camera captures the Great Indian Bustard in the park

Finding the rangers
The project is the brainchild of 26-year-old Sonali Prasad, a Delhi-based science and environment reporter, who was awarded the Pulitzer Travelling Fellowship last year after acquiring a masters in journalism from Columbia University, New York. The grant is helping fund this project.

The Rajasthan government has invested over '12 crore in Project Bustard for the period of 2013 to 2017 to protect the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard, locally known as Godavan
The Rajasthan government has invested over '12 crore in Project Bustard for the period of 2013 to 2017 to protect the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard, locally known as Godavan

A statistic thrown up by International Ranger Federation - that India had the highest forest ranger mortality rate from 2012 to 2014 - urged Prasad to dig deeper and come up with the idea of Ranger Ranger. "Forest guards have a lot going against them including living in remote conditions with no fixed working hours, meagre pay, conflict with villagers and poachers. Yet, they stand guard over our natural frontiers," says Prasad, who was keen to report a truthful picture, including corruption in the field, from ground zero. So, last month, she spent a week with Sukhpali, patrolling and going bustard-spotting with her, eating meals together and spending a night under the desert sky with her family.

Sonali Prasad and Yashas Mitta
Sonali Prasad and Yashas Mitta

The road ahead
Over the next 10 months, she will travel across India's forests, including Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan (the next on her itinerary), Kerala's Periyar National Park and Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh, to document various profiles, from a forest guard to village volunteer and divisional forest officer.

These stories will be interspersed with stunning visuals and video footage created in collaboration with various artists, all woven together by Mukha's founder Yashas Mitta, who is the creative director of the project. He says, "The goal is to publish at least two stories a month. Towards the end of the project, we'll work towards presenting the findings through other creative avenues, including an exhibition."

Log on to: mukha.co/ranger-ranger

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