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At 16, I Stood Against My Entire Village to Become Ranthambore’s First Woman Naturalist

Suraj Bai Meena was born in a village near Ranthambore where it was unheard of for girls to pursue a career or education. Today, she is Ranthambore’s first woman naturalist. Watch this video to see her journey.

At 16, I Stood Against My Entire Village to Become Ranthambore’s First Woman Naturalist

Suraj Bai Meena was born in a village located near the Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan. She recalls, “Here, girls were not allowed to go to school or study. Their only role was to cook, clean, and reproduce. In fact, if a girl was educated, the dowry her parents had to give would be doubled.”

But Suraj was determined from childhood not to be among them, inspired by her brother Hemraj. 

With Hemraj’s support, she enrolled in a Hindi-medium school in a nearby village, and at the age of 16, started working as a naturalist in the Ranthambore National Park, following in her brother’s footsteps.

Today, she is Ranthambore’s first woman naturalist. 

Expectedly, the entire village was against her decision, and some even said the company of foreign tourists at the park would “corrupt” her. However, her knowledge of the animals and birds in the area was unparalleled, and Suraj fought against all odds to make a name for herself.   

Her only limitation was that she knew only Hindi, but she picked up English very fast. She went on to do a BA, MA and BEd over the years.   

Now 33, she is often invited to speak in schools in the area, and has received awards like ‘Best Lady Guide’ from the Maharaja of Jaipur, amongst others. “Nothing makes me happier than to motivate younger girls,” she says.

Suraj is now a veteran in identifying calls and tracking footprints of the animals, but says that it’s still as exhilarating to spot an animal as on day one. 

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Edited by Divya Sethu


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