Kheer and Mahilabai Pardhi
Members of the Pardhi community who gave up hunting and run a hostel for Pardhi children
Kheer Babu and Mahila Bai, both members of the Pardhi nomadic tribe are torchbearers of wildlife conservation in their community. Traditionally a wildlife hunting community, the Pardhis were employed to assist the British and rich Indian zamindars on sport hunts. Post independence, the community’s work became illegal and they became synonymous with poaching.
However, over the past decade the Pardhis have begun to move away from hunting, in large part due to Kheer and Mahila’s incessant advocacy, with the help of an initiative by the Panna Forest Department, WWF India and Sarava Shiksha Abhiyan. Kheer and Mahila Bai have been working to change the mindset of the community with regards to hunting, despite opposition from other members. They actively engaged in scouting eligible children to join the Pardhi hostel and school, educating their community on the ill effects of hunting and encouraging them to educate their children. Mahila Bai along with her husband Batal Pardhi, and Kheer Pardhi along with his wife Kunti have been instrumental in nurturing the students at the boys and girls hostel respectively. Their guidance has led several students to academic success, and their enduring work has resulted in a considerable decline in the hunting of big cats and other animals in the Panna district.
Kheer and Mahila are an integral part of their students’ lives, and a source of inspiration for communities across India. They illustrate that communities are willing to take up respectable alternative sources of livelihood that not only wean them away from the forest, but also provide a stable source of income. Their ability to embrace change and envision a future that is different from their past, make Kheer and Mahila Bai a force for positive change.