At Periyar in Kerala
, two hundred families live at the heart of a cooperative, on bits of land given by the government, in houses they built but that they do not own. Some men are farmers, forest guards and other manage the buffalo tours... All those men are former employees of the famous Virapan, the sandalwood and ivory dealer shot dead by the police. The government gave the opportunity to these men and women to reintegrate society in an honest way. "With Virapan, I earned 30,000 rupees (480 pounds), but I spent it all on alcohol and cigarettes, now I earn 1,200 Rupees (20 pounds) but I am happy and live an honest life". Kumaresan is 35 years old. He explains that with Virapan, "we cut trees down secretly". Adding: "Virapan was like God, because he paid us". He admits: "We also killed elephants for the ivory." Nowadays, these men earn less, but they are famous. They now track down the bandits: "Last year, someone killed a leopard, and we found him".
Virapan was also accused of having murdered Nagappa, the former agricultural minister. He rejected this accusation: according to him, Nagappa died, during an altercation between his men and the police.
© Photography: Virginie Lebrun