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Guarding Kerala’s Sandalwood: These Women Prove It’s Not Just a Man’s Job

Spread over 600 hectares, the Marayoor range is one of the most the vulnerable forests in the state where the illegal tree felling by lumberjacks and loggers continues on a rampant scale, and the job of these vigilant officers is nothing less of a risky gamble.

Shielding the sandalwood forests of Marayoor from the onslaught of poachers and smugglers in Kerala’s Idukki district are two unlikely forest officers, and you would never assume that they would have been assigned the post since it involves such a huge risk to their safety and security.

But when Athira P Vijayan and PS Sreedevi were deployed as the Beat Forest Officers (BFO) to ‘man’ the dreaded forest range in the beginning of this year, they scripted history for being the first women in the state to do so.

Athira and Sreedevi, both engineers, are among the first batch of 40 women BFOs appointed by the Kerala government on January 1, who have been entrusted the responsibility of guarding the Kadukkathara division under Nachivayal forest station, day and night.

Spread over 600 hectares, the Marayoor range is one of the most the vulnerable forests in the state where the illegal tree felling by lumberjacks and loggers continues on a rampant scale, and the job of these vigilant officers is nothing less of a risky gamble.

The entrance to Marayoor forest range. Source: Facebook.

“We don’t feel safe even inside our houses, so I wondered how it would be in the jungles. But then I thought, that very fear is what is stopping us from attempting anything new. I decided to conquer my fears. Now, I feel confident, though it isn’t easy,” Athira told the Times of India.

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Having burnt the midnight oil amidst the scented woods of Marayoor for over two months now, the forest now seems home to the fearless women have come to learn every twist and turn in the wild thickets like the back of their hand.

Braving through cold, foggy nights, their patrols have often lead to encounters with jungle beasts like wild boar, deer and wild gaur, besides looking out for dangerous poachers.

The fearless women in khaki. Source: Manorama.

Athira and Sreedevi, equipped with flashlights, batons and walkie-talkies, begin the patrolling at 6 p.m., and it goes on until 6 a.m. next morning. Following this, they head to their shelter built along the fringes of the forest to spend the day. Such is the need of heavy patrolling in the region that a total of 200 beat officers have been assigned across the Marayoor range.

Both the women understand that the work they do, in the middle of sandalwood smuggling and other illegal activities being carried out in the forest, poses a significant risk to their lives. “But, what is life without challenges and adventure?” Athira added.

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Written by Lekshmi Priya S

Shuttling between existentialist views and Grey's Anatomy, Lekshmi has an insanely disturbing habit of binge reading. An ardent lover of animals and plants, she also specializes in cracking terribly sad jokes.