A TIGER STARES BACK into the lens of the camera, his eyes heavy with fear and helplessness. This portrait of the caged animal, captured in Valparai, Tamil Nadu, is a departure from the standard visualisation of tigers as threatening. It evokes the battle—one that is raging in India at the moment—between people and tigers.
A 39-year-old visual storyteller from south India, Senthil Kumaran began his work on tigers in 2012, visiting tiger reserves across India, including Anamalai, Sundarbans, Madhumalai, Bandipur, Tadoba, Kalakad and Periyar. In his childhood dreams, he said, he saw tigers as majestic animals. This perception was quashed when he witnessed hundreds of people viciously attacking a tiger that had entered a village. The incident compelled him to work on the hostile relationship between humans and wildlife—and its disturbing fallout. After focussing on tigers for five years, Kumaran moved on to documenting the human-elephant conflict in south India, a project which is ongoing.
In his tiger project, Kumaran depicts the troubled existence of two vulnerable groups attempting to cohabit in a swiftly shrinking landscape: the tiger population, which has increasingly been confined to protected reserves and multiple-use forests, and the local human communities that reside around forest areas. Although his series explores the perspective of both groups, Kumaran considers “humans as the encroacher” in this dynamic. He argues that although tiger reserves have a “core” area where activities such as grazing and growing produce are not allowed, settlements, cultivation and development activities in wildlife corridors have increasingly infringed on these areas.