As day broke on November 1, elephant safaris for tourists in the Kaziranga National Park resumed after a long pandemic-induced break. Many local residents heaved a sigh of relief, hoping the vacationers would finally start flocking in.

But a few kilometres away from where the elephant safaris started, Jaya Dutta woke up to a sight that made her break down: her coconut trees, which had just started flowering, lay on the ground, probably felled in a nocturnal onslaught by a hungry pachyderm.

This was the second loss of property in a month. In October, Dutta’s family and three of their neighbours were told in October that they were living inside the premises of the national park. The choice was theirs, an official from the district administration reportedly told them: dismantle your homes voluntarily or face eviction. The former, the official told them, would be less messy for everyone – it would let them preserve valuables they possessed and claiming compensation would be easier. Soon, the district administration followed up with a formal eviction notice.

So sometime in the second week of October, as the rains let up, they hammered down their hearths, built several decades ago. “That was the only home my husband had...

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