For a Beautiful World - Prerna Singh Bindra, Conservation journalist and Editor, TigerLink, also Member of National Board of Wildlife

Prerna Singh Bindra plays many roles as a Changemaker - an advocate, a journalist, a writer and editor, and a lobbyist for conservation. She has consulted with Friends of Women¹s World Banking where she assessed needs for micro financing for rural women, and helped streamline systems to make micro finance accessible; she has authored books and done many investigative stories exposing the illegal shahtoosh and ivory trade and the elephant massacre in Orissa; she edits the journal Tigerlink; she lobbies with governments, media on conservation issues; she is part of several wildlife committees and recipient of the Carl Zeiss Award for excellence in networking and engaging the public at large for the cause of wildlife conservation, as well as the Sanctuary Asia Wildlife Service award for in-depth and consistent coverage of conservation issues.

She is the voice of the voiceless fauna and thinks from their point of view. She believes that they have as much right to live and die in dignity as any human being does. They were born free. They should live free.

She has been inspired by Rachel Carson’s seminal work Silent Spring that sparked the environment movement as we know it today. “She showed the world what pesticides have poisoned our world-the presence of toxic chemicals in water and on land, in our soil and food, and its impact on other creatures of the earth. Rachel warned of the presence of DDT in mother’s milk because of it. She faced the wrath of the pesticide industry, but her work resulted in the banning of DDT and setting up of environment regulations. Rachel Carson showed the world the power of the pen, and what one woman can do to change the world,” says Prerna.

Dr Jane Goodall is another one of her heros. She is the world’s foremost primatologist and conservationist who went into the jungles of Africa to study wild chimpanzees s in 1960. Her study and books changed the way we looked at our next of kin. “I am inspired by all those women who fight against all odds to stand up for their rights, such as Bhanwari Devi, gang raped by the upper-castes in a village in India risked her life and faced social boycott to fight for justice and bring her rapists to book; my help who works double shift to educate her daughter even though she faces the ire of her husband who believes that women don’t need education; and my mother who changed lives around her simply by being kind and always lending a helping hand to anyone in need.”

A sense of passion and conviction - a sense of ‘I believe’ is what it takes to succeed in life, according to her. “It is when you believe in something, that you find the courage to follow your convictions, in spite of the odds. When I started to write (I worked for a national newspaper writing on films, shopping, fashion, theater) on wildlife and conservation issues, the editor scoffed. No one would read that stuff; do it in your own time, with your own resources he said. There was little room for environment in popular press then, but I persisted, thought of new ways to present a story, packaged it well. Got meaty stuff: essentially gave the editor little choice. The stories made it to page one and the editor of a rival daily said they now had a to employ an environment reporter too.” That is the power of one’s conviction!

She also says that you have to empower others around you and recognize their skills and expertise, tap it, encourage it. Knowledge is meant to be shared, not locked in, or used for personal glory. There are no set formulas for success except hard work and that little ‘extra’ something that you put in. Working with others as a team is another essential aspect to success. There are bound to be differences, divergent viewpoints, but strength lies in unity. Half-hearted work gets you nowhere - put in your best, do your best and you cannot go wrong.

“I never give up! In my line of work—conservation—there are many failures. In times of despair, I liken it to that of a onco-surgeon: You do your bit that might delay the inevitable, but more often than not, you lose the battle - the cancer of greed will ravage the forest. Even if you lobby and campaign against a road cutting into tiger habitat, it may still happen. It’s a murky battle; you are up against big business, politicians-there are powerful lobbies at work. But you don’t give up… you battle on. For somewhere, sometimes without even knowing it, you will have made a difference. And that one success that you had makes it worthwhile. An issue I raised on frontline staff not getting wages in a tiger reserve resulted eventually on funds being released for the reserve.

“I was the first journalist (no official had been in either) to go into Simlipal Tiger Reserve in Orissa after it was the attacked by Naxals and draw attention to it. Following it up with other efforts, by a lot of people, resulted it it has been taken up us a special initiative by central government, and today, inspite of many problems, the park has seen some positive changes. A story that focused on tourism infrastructure acted as an impetus for a survey around tiger reserves to study the impact of tourism on tigers and their habitat. Currently, guidelines and rules for tourism around wildlife habitats. This is what makes it all worthwhile, the small changes that you can help make. And not just in some concrete action, but also in the way of thinking. The cause is greater than the self.”

If she had to do anything differently in her life, she says she would have written a diary. “I get lazy by the end of the day. I get tired of the battles, and putting pen to paper (again!) and have so much of the wonderful things I did, the places I have seen, the people I have met…is lost.”

On a lighter note, she says in Julie Andrews words: I have confidence in me! And in what I do - that is her superpower! As a 15-year-old, she did not know what direction her life would take and didn’t have any elaborate plans. She just knew she loved animals. It was this emotive connect and a strong sense of injustice she felt on their behalf that led her up this path. She is glad that she didn’t plan her life that let her follow her heart, even though it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. “On the other hand, it would have been good if I had aspired for more, realised the potential and the potential of what is possible with hard work, and courage. This is something most girls need to know. Maybe I would have used the opportunities I had and not passed them over and I would have told myself to have more fun, I was too serious a teen!”

She feels in the next 30 years, her job is just going to get more difficult. With a rapidly expanding population and raised aspiration and lifestyles, the threats to wildlife and pressures on its habitat are accelerating by the day. But she pins her hope on the growing army of young crusaders who understand the urgency. “They are the inheritors of the earth and they are working in myriad, wondrous ways to help heal the world. A child took up odd jobs, shoe polishing and car washing included to donate to tiger conservation, another has set up a website to acquaint kids her age (around ten) with environment issues.”

She feels that the younger generation has a lot to offer and from them she has learnt to take more risks and occasionally, to throw caution to the winds. “One child taught me the import and impact of what one does. I used to write a nature column for children. It was just something I did - at times it was merely a deadline to be met. Then I met this little boy who had struck in his scrapbook all my Nature columns and would eagerly await the next one. We talked about why the sparrows were missing in his garden and why my dog followed me everywhere and why tigers need to be saved. I had planted a seed, and I never knew it.”

She feels that there is no right time to act - any time is a good time to act. The only thing to remember is to think before you act, but sometimes you gotta just act. If you think too much, you won’t take the plunge. “It’s like marriage, you know—if you think too hard, the downside starts showing,” she says with a smile. “Don’t wait for others to act. Don’t assume it is someone else’s responsibility. Your act will be the mobilizing force.”

She advises emerging social entrepreneurs to have complete, consistent commitment to their ideas and to take that idea forward at the right moment; people are the key so have the right people on board; seize opportunities; and invent new approaches to solve a problem. “You need to impact the thinking of the people, plant a thought process, an idea. Highlight issues—whether it is the hacking of the city’s green lungs or a road cutting through elephant forests or a mine pillaging tiger habitat and fertile fields—and bringing them into the public domain. And keep innovating, exploring each and every opportunity to reach your goal.”

She feels in the next 50 years women will be working on much of the same issues as they are today. “Women have come a long way, but the battle for personal freedom will continue. I think one of the major issues women will work on is preserving natural resources. Women are the hardest hit when natural resources are scarce. Though I am mainly talking of women in the rural landscape, in the future this scarcity is going to cross the rural-urban and the rich-poor divide, it will affect us all—be it water, fuel. Woman is a nurturer and I believe she will have a major role to play healing the planet.” According to her, the woman of the future will be more confident, empowered and in more key leadership positions and governance.

When the world gets too much and she is overridden by thoughts of what the future holds, she has just one place to go to sort her thoughts and regain her calm to focus on her mission. “The joy I feel when I am in the forest, one with nature, is beyond description - watching a tiger or an elephant calf at play, listening to the sound of the stream, the robin singing its love song, watching a rainbow streak across a sky, a leaf fall slowly on the forest floor, a squirrel making a nest. I know then that ours is a beautiful world and I will do my best to keep it that way!”