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Interview with Dr Arabinda N Chowdhury

Posted Mon, Mar, 21,2016

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This author interview is by Professor Arabinda N Chowdhury, of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust,. Dr Chowdhury's full paper, Eco-psycho-social aspects of Human- Tiger conflict: An ethnographic study of Tiger-widows of Sundarban Delta, India, is available for download in Environmental Health Insights.

Please summarize for readers the content of your article.
This a study about human-tiger conflict in a community adjacent to a reserve forest (containing a tiger reserve also) in Sundarban region of the state of west Bengal, India. The people in the fringe villages use to explore the forest for different livelihood measures like wood cutting, honey collection, fishing, prawn-seed or crab collection etc. During these activities they are often subjected to animal attacks, mainly tiger and crocodile. Sometimes attack by straying tiger in the villages also occurs. The study highlighted the situation analysis of tiger attacks in two villages and provided detailed data on the nature and outcome of tiger attacks. An in-depth study of tiger-widows (locally called Bag-Bidohoba- widow because the husband was killed by tiger) was also carried out to study the depth and nature of Stigma related with tiger attack and subsequent discrimination and social marginalization of these widows. The core analysis is directed to the process of cultural construction of stigma related to tiger attacks.

How did you come to be involved in your area of study?
It was a very interesting tale. I was working on a World Bank research project on the prevention of suicide by pesticide ingestion in the delta region of Sundarban in the state of West Bengal. As a part of this research we had monthly mental health clinics in two blocks of Sundarban- Gosaba and Namkhana. Gosaba was the island bordered with Sundarban Tiger Reserve (containing a good number of Royal Bengal Tigers). I examined quite a few widows (whose husbands were killed by tigers while exploring the forest for livelihood activities) for different somatic and mental health problems. Clinical interview reveals an awful lot of social discrimination and stigma related with tiger attacks among those tiger-widows. That prompted me to undertake a research survey on human-tiger conflict in the area and a study on the cultural aspect of stigma related with tiger attack.

What was previously known about the topic of your article?
Cultural aspect of stigma is a well focused topic in the literature but these are mainly related with either physical illness/deformities or mental health diagnosis. Virtually there is no report in the literature relating to the stigma construction upon an animal attack. So in this sense it is a reporting of a new dimension of stigma formation in the context of local cultural attitude and beliefs about tiger attacks.

How has your work in this area advanced understanding of the topic?
It shows the importance of cultural values, beliefs (folk cults) and religiosity in the formation of different stigma layers. The socio-cultural meaning and context of trauma or events leading to stigma and discrimination is an important finding of this study.

What do you regard as being the most important aspect of the results reported in the article?
Ecopsychiatry is the special academic discipline to focus the relationship between human and their environment. Ecospecificity of the region (Sundarban) facilitates beliefs and attitudes towards the flora and fauna of the region and tiger in this case occupies a special position in the life of the forest goers of the region and formed a very sacred connotation about the tiger and forest deity (Bonobibi) and thus the tiger attack was perceived not merely as an animal attack but endorses a strong sense of religious transgression and subsequent wrath of the forest Goddess. This a unique example of how culture constructs the stigma process in the local context. A similar example is also found in case of elephant attack (Chowdhury, 2014) where elephant is equated as a God- the elephant headed God Ganesh of the Hindu religion.

Chowdhury AN (2014). Culture and posttraumatic stress disorder: a case of elephant attack. Dysphrenia, 5:145-149.

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