Rajput woman forest guard Kagada patrols the Gir forest as a life of service

Rajput woman forest guard Kagada patrols the Gir forest as a life of service

Ahmedabad,Sept11:Kagada comes from a family of eight sisters, and has no brothers.

“I belong to the Rajput caste which is very conservative. Girls and women in our families are treated as inferior beings. We are meant to get married, look after our families, cook and clean, and not have a career,” she says.

Her father, she says, was no different in his beliefs.

“I had just finished senior school in 2011 when I heard that the forest department was recruiting. I went to my sister’s house and persuaded her husband to take me for the exam.

“For 600 posts, there were 600,000 applicants,” she says, adding that the competition was “very tough”.

Photograph of three lion cubs taken by Sandeep Kumar, Deputy Conservator of Forests in GirImage copyrightSANDEEP KUMAR, GIR FOREST OFFICIAL
Darshana KagadaImage copyrightHANDOUT

“First I had to clear the physical fitness test. Then I was taken on a 10km walk through the forest where I had to identify flora and fauna. That was followed by a written test and then an oral examination.”

She told her father only after she got the job. “Today, he’s very proud of me,” she says.

On a cool October morning, 24-year-old Kagada escorts me into the lush green Gir forest.

We are in an open jeep and just a few minutes into our journey, we stop as we come across three guards patrolling the forest on foot.

Darshana Kagada with a group of lionesses and cubs in the background
A lioness with her cub photographed by Sandeep Kumar, Deputy Conservator of Forests in GirImage copyrightSANDEEP KUMAR, GIR FOREST OFFICIAL

As Kagada chats with them, I turn to my left, and there, less than three metres from us are three lionesses lounging around with five cubs. The guards only have wooden sticks, but they seem unconcerned.

“Lions are royal animals. They don’t care about you and me,” explains Kagada. “They will attack humans only if we intrude into their space, or if they feel you are threatening their cubs or you get too close to them when they are mating.”

As the lionesses settle down to take a nap, we continue to hang around, chatting and looking at them. The only time one of the lionesses turns her head to look in our direction is when one of the guards starts talking a bit loudly on his walkie-talkie.

Darshana Kagada points out pug marks

Kagada is among 48 women guards who are involved in the protection and rescue of lions and leopards in Gir.

She also trains forest guards and officials and teaches nature education courses to school children.

“I love my job, lots of children, especially girls, tell me they want to be like me,” Kagada says.

“These women guards are an inspiration to women all over the country,” says Sandeep Kumar, Deputy Conservator of Forests in Gir.

“Even Prime Minister Modi has said that people don’t come to Gir to see lions, they come to see these women guards,” he adds.

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