In forests, women guards fight fire, leopards alike

In forests, women guards fight fire, leopards alike

12 April 2013

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India — When Chief Minister Narendra Modi talked about women guards of the Gir forest taking tourists to view lions, at a FICCI meet in New Delhi on Monday, he could have as well meant Anita Raval, a forest beat guard working in the arduous terrain of the Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary around the Karjan Dam in Narmada’s Nandod taluka, tracking down people cutting trees, preventing forest fire and chasing away leopards, an example that encapsulates the spirit of women in the state.

Raval, 24, is two years into the job as Van Raksha Sahayak. Her work is not time-bound. In the event of fire breaking out in the forest at night, she has to rush to the forest to help douse it so it does not spread. Many a time, she has to venture out into the forest alone, armed with a stick, to persuade tribals not to cut trees or light fire in the forest which they do as part of a ritual. She also plants trees in the forest from saplings that she grows outside of her quarters in Jeetgarh village near the Karjan Dam.

Raval is one of only eight women beat guards out of a total 129 beat guards in Narmada district, according to a forest department data. Her beat is to cover forest falling under Mota Raipur and Jeetgarh villages along the Karjan Dam, which covers a 1,200-hectare area. She hails from Netrang in Bharuch district, situated some 50 kilometres from where she is posted. “I had applied for the job after I saw an advertisement in a newspaper, though I was not sure if I will get selected. I like my job because I love forest, trees, animals,” she said.

She has brought along her parents to stay with her. “Sometimes we have to trek 15 kilometres in a day, and have to rush into the forest at night in the event of fire. We take five to seven persons along when we come to know about fire in the forest or people cutting trees,” she said.

“Cutting forest wood is not allowed, though we allow villagers to collect dry wood. When we find somebody cutting trees, we inform the range officer. We also prevent villagers from burning forest which they do as a part of their ritual, but which harms the forest no end. We persuade villagers not to do such a thing, but if they do, we try to douse fire so it does not spread,” she said. “We have been trained how to douse the forest fire by creating fire line so we could prevent it from spreading. Among other duty, we grow plant in a nursery near our quarter and shift them into the forest when they grow up,” she said.

Raval said in the last two years, she helped release at least six leopards in the forest that were rescued from areas with human population. “I once saw a leopard cross the road very close to me as I was passing through the jungle but it passed by peacefully, as I halted on my way for a moment,” she chuckled.

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