• Monday, October 03, 2022

Human Interest

Meet Ramesh Sikarwar, a former dacoit who India appointed to protect its cheetahs

Cheetah Mitra Ramesh Sikarwar (R) (Picture: @SantoshoOjha/Twitter) and a cheetah (Photo by JOHN WESSELS/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Shubham Ghosh

India is set to reintroduce cheetahs in its wild after a gap of seven decades as the speedy cat became extinct in the country in 1952. The animals, which will be brought from Namibia in Africa, will be located in Kuno National Park in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

The Indian government has also taken an initiative to ensure that the cheetahs are protected from residents living nearby as man-animal conflicts in the country’s forest areas is not uncommon. ‘Cheetah Mitra‘ (friend of the cheetah) is the name of the programme under which people are roped in to raise awareness about the newly introduced animals.

Among the Cheetah Mitras is Ramesh Sikarwar, a former dacoit, India Today reported.

Sikarwar, who has been an accused in about 70 murder cases, is the most prominent among 457 people that have been roped in from 90 villages to work as ‘Cheetah Mitra‘.

The man, aged 71, had surrendered in October 1984 but his status remains the same in the area. The man has said that he would not let anything happen to the cheetahs and would not mind even if lost his life for the cause.

“I will give my life but won’t let anything happen to the cheetahs. I am grateful that I have been made ‘Cheetah Mitra’. I have been working for the protection of wild animals in the past and will fulfil this responsibility too,” Sikarwar told Aaj Tak.

“There are a large number of Pardhi families living around the national park who hunt wildlife. Earlier, these people had also killed the deputy ranger of the forest department, but no action was taken against them.”

Pardhi is a tribal community.

Expressing his concern over the cheetahs’ safety, the veteran said the government should confiscate licenses of weapons that the Pardhi people living around the national park use.

Sikarwar is also working on spreading awareness about the big cats in the local villages saying that they are not harmful to humans and hence they should not be harmed either.

The area is also home to a large number of leopards and since many people do not know to differentiate between a leopard and cheetah, Sikarwar is trying even harder to make the villagers understand the differences between the two animals.

Talking about his past as a rebel, Sikarwar said he had picked up a gun to avenge the injustice that was done to his father. His uncle was accused of taking possession of his father’s share of land and driving them out of the house. Sikarwar then became a rebel after killing his uncle, the India Today report added.

The man, who is now a community helper who serves tribals, is also set to meet prime minister Narendra Modi on Saturday (17) on the occasion of the latter’s birthday. The cheetahs will be released by the prime minister the same day.

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