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

Cheeta Mitra

Through the 1970s and 80s, Ramesh Sikarwar and his gang of dacoits in Chambal would usually spend their nights in a forest — identified at present because the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh.

It is that this previous connection that prompted Sikarwar, now 72, to come back 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 is time now for me to protect it,” he says.

Sikarwar’s identify nonetheless carries fear 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 different volunteers embrace college academics, village headmen and patwaris.

“Once we knew the cheetahs were coming, we had started running an awareness campaign about the cheetahs in the surrounding villages. It was the MP government’s proposal to establish cheetah mitras, who would basically operate as informants for the forest department and keep us apprised of the goings in and around the Kuno National Park. They will also be responsible for carrying out their own awareness campaigns regarding the cheetahs among villages and local populations. In July, when we had started these campaigns, we had asked for volunteers to become cheetah mitras. That is when Sirkarwar, who is well known in the area, came forward,” says Chief Wildlife Warden Madhya Pradesh J S Chauhan.

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Speaking with The Indian Express, Sirkarwar described his previous life and switch to dacoity: “I was just 23 years old when I became a Baghi (dacoit). My father had to leave our village of Lahroni, after my uncle grabbed our property and refused to part with it despite the property being in my father’s name. We were poor, he was rich. We had relocated to another village. When I was older, and my father had passed, my sister was getting married, I went to my uncle for cattle to give in my sister’s wedding. He refused. I shot him and ran away,” he says.

Over the following few years, Sirkarwar was to determine 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 were all from poor families pushed to become baghis. Most of the issues we worked on as a gang was that of property disputes where the police and administration would always side with the richer party. There was no one to look out for the poor. They did not receive justice, so we gave them justice. Over the years, we carried out over 300 kidnappings, where we would abduct sons of rich fathers and demand a ransom of Rs 2-4 lakhs. We were protected by the villagers, given food and shelter. We would move around constantly to avoid the police – shifting places two-three times a day. Having breakfast in one place, lunch in another, dinner in a third village. At night we would sleep in the forest —most often we would sleep in what is now called the Kuno National Park,” he says.

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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 in the course of 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. Last month, a leopard was discovered lifeless within the park, and primarily based on data 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, along with his kids and grandchildren, rising wheat, mustard and soyabean. He has been given two rifles and ammunition by the federal government for his “protection”.

He says: “I have already told people that they will not enter Kuno National Park and no one is to attack the Cheetahs. If anybody does, or if we find poachers, then they will face the consequences from me.”

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