This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Shambhavi Saxena. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Meet The Badass Female Forest Officers Who Are Saving Our Lions!

More from Shambhavi Saxena

By Shambhavi Saxena

Forest guards carrying wooden sticks patrol the Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in Sasan, in the western Indian state of Gujarat December 1, 2014. The sanctuary, which is home to India's Asiatic lions, occupies an area of 1,412 square km and employed female guards, for the first time in the country, back in 2007. According to one of the female guards, they earn a monthly salary of around $148 for working almost 12 hours a day, six days a week. Picture taken December 1, 2014. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee (INDIA - Tags: ANIMALS ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT) - RTR4H8SB
Image source: REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee

In 1971, Helen Reddy sang “I am woman, hear me roar”. Today the Lion Queens of Gir National Park are really bringing that lyric to life. It all started when a group of women, employed by the Forest Department of Gujrat in 2007, ditched their paper-pushing duties for something more hands-on. A unique sisterhood was forged in the forests of Gir, held together by their deep sense of commitment to the environment, and to their own independence and strength.

At the helm of this team is 31-year old Raseela Vadher. A native of Bandhuri village, Junagadh, she had her start in the communications division of the Forest Department, but quickly realised that her interests lay outside the four walls of government offices. Vadher wasn’t the only one to come to this conclusion. 27-year old Vilas Antana has happily traded in the prospect of being a bride for khakis, a double-barrelled tranquiliser gun and a vast knowledge of the forest, under her protection.

With 43 new recruits to the team this year, and a four-episode run on Discovery Channel last September, the Lion Queens’ journey has been inspiring, to say the least. But the conditions are no walk in the park.

Their patrol stretches across 25 km of forest, often in soaring temperatures, and close encounters with the animals are inevitable. No one knows this better than Vadher, who has the scars from a 2012 lion attack to prove it. In spite of this, her love for the forest and its animals is unwavering.

“The lion is like a family member,” says Vadher, whose long years in the forests have given her keen insights that seem almost magical to city-slickers. “We understand the mood of the animal by the twitch of the ear or tail.” Where one might see a 160-kilo carnivore, Raseela and her team see complex social units, behavioural patterns, and numerous indicators of ecological health.

It’s a nerve-wracking job, conserving a forest! It involves neutralising some of the planet’s deadliest creatures; making medical interventions; rescuing endangered and dangerous animals from pits, ditches and deep wells; halting illegal wood cutting; and arresting poachers. There’s also a lot to be done in the crèche for abandoned baby animals. But lest those cute cub faces deceive us, the Lion Queens – who run a real tight ship in Gir – have a truly high-octane occupation.

Female forest guards (L-R) Rashila Ben, Sangeeta and Darshana examine a lion faeces as they patrol the Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in Sasan in the western Indian state of Gujarat December 1, 2014. The sanctuary, which is home to Asiatic lions in India, has an area of 1,412 sq km in which female guards were employed for the first time in India in 2007. The guards fetch a monthly salary of around $148 for working almost 12 hours a day, six days a week, said one of the female guards. Picture taken December 1, 2014. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee (INDIA - Tags: ANIMALS BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT SOCIETY) - RTR4H9AC
Image source: REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee

Vadher, who is responsible for the rescue operations, does not mess around. Not only does she give her all to the forest, she believes, “Girls can do anything. We are not meant to sit at home and make rotis.”

Fierce and self-assured, the Lion Queens have been packing a mean punch to the social demands levied against women. These wildlife heroes, many of them in their twenties, have had to overcome opposition from their families to work as foresters. Because of the ‘glorious’ gender-binary we hold so dear, it is often incorrectly assumed that women cannot do work that is physically demanding of them. The utter lack of opportunity when it comes to anything from owning assets to physical training, has disadvantaged women so much so that their non-involvement in nearly all public aspects of life, are normalised. The Lion Queens, who have a six-year headstart over another extremely similar team from South Africa – the Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit – are effectively smashing this myth of women being incompetent and weak.

In fact, the growing numbers of Asiatic lions in Gir, which is now over 500, could not have been possible without the hard work of this very special team. Their efforts in wildlife conservation may on the surface seem unrelated to gender inequalities in India, but they’re essentially shining a light on the accomplishments we are told women are incapable of. And in a country where the sex ratio is embarrassing, in which sexual violence is used to discipline women, and in which a woman’s place is the kitchen, it’s certainly important to see women like Vadher excelling in their field.

A lion’s call travels eight kilometres in any direction. The example being set by amazing foresters like Raseela Vadher must travel coast to coast, mountain peak to sand dune, and all the way back.

For she is woman, hear her roar.

You must be to comment.

More from Shambhavi Saxena

Similar Posts

By Tania Mitra

By Kunal Gupta

By Ritushree

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below