Pardis - hunters in need of help

Posted on
14 April 2010
How changing times have turned against a traditional hunting community

An adventurous people

Hardly has a community in India’s recent history been more affected by changing laws and times, as the Pardis, a nomadic tribe of Central India, have. Spread across the states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh as well as along the latter’s borders with Rajasthan, the traditional occupation of a majority of Pardis is hunting and selling wildlife derivatives, including meat.

The erstwhile Maharajas used their skills in their hunting expeditions. Pardis used to drive the wildlife towards the kings’ hunting parties. They would also indulge in hunting expeditions or ‘hakas’ and provide meat to royal kitchens. They would be rewarded in return. Many farmers in Central India used Pardis to guard against crop raiding wild herbivores. The Pardis would halt over in farmlands and trap the crop raiders. In return, they would benefit from temporary shelter to stay around villages as well as get to retain the hunted animals’ meat, which they would consume and also sell. Over centuries, they honed their hunting skills this way.

Their various occupations and hunting practises evolved them into different sub-castes. For example, the Phaandiya Pardis hunt their quarry using a rope noose. The Teliya Pardis sell meat and oil extracted from reptiles which they capture. But, the most remarkable aspect of hunting by Pardis is their total dependence on traditional means and basic equipment, like twines, wooden clubs (Lathis) and knives to bring down wildlife. They rarely use a search light, vehicles, guns or electricity. There are also some among them who moved away from nomadic life and settled down to practice agriculture.

Troubled times: Post independence and Wildlife Protection Act (1972)
Some Pardis like Langoti Pardis have been attributed with thievery since a long time. However, the British treated a majority of Pardis as social pariahs. Most of their sub-sects were included in the list of ‘criminal’ tribes in the Criminal Tribes Act notified in 1871. Though the act was over turned in 1952, after Independence, and they were ‘denotified,’ the historical stigma continues to haunt them.

Pardis had to endure more post-1972, when the Government of India brought into effect the Wildlife Protection Act. They were not only prohibited from entering many of the Government controlled lands that are now designated as protected forests - national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, but they were also required to stop hunting overnight. With hundreds of years of practice and perfection in making a living out of hunting, they were suddenly left without a profession they could legally practise. With no formal and organised training and assistance provided to them to earn their bread in any other way, they covertly continued with their hunting practices. According to Mr. Golla Krishnamurthy, IFS, who has served for Panna Tiger Reserve in the past “They mainly hunt big game and trade their skin with middlemen located in cities for further illegal export. They hunt animals like deer, wild boar and other small herbivores for staple food on a day to bay basis”.

Added was the problem of them being an ex-‘criminal’ tribe and the fact that they were nomads. Village after village across their vast land of existence viewed them suspiciously and prevented them from living close to their habitation. There are reports in the media of this happening even to this day. This discrimination and blanket denial of opportunities may have actually prevented them from giving up poaching as well as criminal activities and may have even encouraged them to indulge in them for their survival.

The way forward
According to sources in the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department, a vast amount of the wildlife poached in that state, particularly in and around Panna Tiger Reserve, has links to Pardis. Most of India’s big wildlife traders and illegal trade mafia have used them to source their wildlife. Their links to poaching have surfaced in many other forests across India, even in the core of well-known sanctuaries like Karnataka’s Rajiv Gandhi (Nagarahole) National Park, over a thousand kilometres away from Panna.

The challenge lies in rehabilitating them into the social mainstream. Many wildlife lovers and NGOs have thought on this and are making concerted efforts to save both the Pardis and the wildlife around Panna Tiger Reserve. The strategy has been to wean their children away from turning to hunting as a profession by providing them formal education. To initiate formal education for their children, WWF-India along with the forest department has been conducting a ‘Residential bridge course’ (RBC), at two locations around Panna, under the Government supported ‘Sarva Shiksha Abyiyaan’ (‘Education for all’) scheme. The bridge course is 9 month long and prepares these kids to enter a state-administered formal education system. Their stay at the student hostel helps them get into the mainstream by inculcating physical hygiene. Says Mr. Krishnamurthy “They live for months without bathing. Most of them lack general hygienic habits”. A residential school has been specially set up for this in Panna District. Simultaneously the adults are being trained in alternative professions. It is felt that those who do not wish to do either should be dealt with a firm hand according to provisions of the law. “This school for Pardi kids has few parallels as it not only aims at mainstreaming a nomadic tribe but also aims at holistic development of the entire area by attempting to interlink solutions for the problems faced by the wildlife and forest department”, adds Mr. Krishnamurthy.

The devastating impact which the Pardis have had on the wildlife around them is undoubted, especially after the degradation of wildlife habitat outside and within some of the PAs. The irony however is, there is no future for wildlife, particularly tigers, in vast parts of India, without rehabilitating these people from hunting. Their future generations have to be weaned away from poaching to save India’s wildlife. These schools are a step by the MP Forest Department and WWF-India in that direction.


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