India

Once dacoit, now cheetah mitra, Ramesh Sikarwar says: ‘If anyone attacks a cheetah in Kuno, they will have to face me’

Via the Nineteen Seventies and 80s, Ramesh Sikarwar and his gang of dacoits in Chambal would typically spend their nights in a forest — identified right now because the Kuno Nationwide Park in Madhya Pradesh.

It’s this outdated connection that prompted Sikarwar, now 72, to return ahead as a “cheetah mitra” on the nationwide park. “The Kuno forest gave us shelter, protected us. We had a deep love for the forest. It’s time now for me to guard it,” he says.

Sikarwar’s identify nonetheless carries worry within the area — the dreaded former dacoit was accused of round 70 murders and 300 kidnappings. Now, he’s a farmer and one of many 500 cheetah mitras from the 51 villages within the space who’ve been skilled to create consciousness among the many villagers concerning the animals. The opposite volunteers embrace faculty lecturers, village headmen and patwaris.

“As soon as we knew the cheetahs had been coming, we had began operating an consciousness marketing campaign concerning the cheetahs within the surrounding villages. It was the MP authorities’s proposal to ascertain cheetah mitras, who would principally function as informants for the forest division and preserve us apprised of the goings in and across the Kuno Nationwide Park. They may also be answerable for finishing up their very own consciousness campaigns concerning the cheetahs amongst villages and native populations. In July, after we had began these campaigns, we had requested for volunteers to turn into cheetah mitras. That’s when Sirkarwar, who’s well-known within the space, got here ahead,” says Chief Wildlife Warden Madhya Pradesh J S Chauhan.

Talking with The Indian Categorical, Sirkarwar described his previous life and switch to dacoity: “I used to be simply 23 years outdated once I grew to become a Baghi (dacoit). My father needed to go away our village of Lahroni, after my uncle grabbed our property and refused to half with it regardless of the property being in my father’s identify. We had been poor, he was wealthy. We had relocated to a different village. Once I was older, and my father had handed, my sister was getting married, I went to my uncle for cattle to offer in my sister’s wedding ceremony. He refused. I shot him and ran away,” he says.

Over the subsequent few years, Sirkarwar was to ascertain a gang of 32 dacoits that may function throughout Gwalior, Morena, Guna, Jhansi, Tikamgarh in Madhya Pradesh and one other 12 districts in Rajasthan.

“We had been all from poor households pushed to turn into baghis. Many of the points we labored on as a gang was that of property disputes the place the police and administration would all the time aspect with the richer social gathering. There was nobody to look out for the poor. They didn’t obtain justice, so we gave them justice. Over time, we carried out over 300 kidnappings, the place we’d abduct sons of wealthy fathers and demand a ransom of Rs 2-4 lakhs. We had been protected by the villagers, given meals and shelter. We’d transfer round continually to keep away from the police – shifting locations two-three instances a day. Having breakfast in a single place, lunch in one other, dinner in a 3rd village. At evening we’d sleep within the forest —most frequently we’d sleep in what’s now known as the Kuno Nationwide Park,” he says.

Sikarwar’s gang surrendered to the authorities in 1984. Sirkarwar says he was by no means convicted as a result of authorities couldn’t discover any witness to testify in opposition to him. He spent 10 years in jail throughout the trial, and was launched in 1994. Members of his gang obtained twenty 12 months in jail. He returned to his village Lahroni, claimed his land, and, after 20 years of being a dacoit, turned to farming.

The Sheopur area, the place the park is situated, has a good quantity of poaching from the Sahariyaand Mogiya tribes. The cheetah mitras have already had an impression, say MP forest officers. Final month, a leopard was discovered useless within the park, and based mostly on info from the cheetah mitras within the space, the forest officers nabbed all 4 of the accused answerable for the killing.

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Sirkawar nonetheless lives in Lahroni, barely 5 kilometres from Kuno nationwide Park, together with his youngsters and grandchildren, rising wheat, mustard and soyabean. He has been given two rifles and ammunition by the federal government for his “safety”.

He says: “I’ve already advised people who they won’t enter Kuno Nationwide Park and nobody is to assault the Cheetahs. If anyone does, or if we discover poachers, then they may face the implications from me.”

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