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Empowering women, preserving wildlife: Story of Kalandar community

On International Women’s Day, a light is shone on the intersection of gender and wildlife conservation, highlighting the transformative

By Ground report
New Update
Empowering women, preserving wildlife: Story of Kalandar community

On International Women’s Day, a light is shone on the intersection of gender and wildlife conservation, highlighting the transformative journey of the Kalandar women in India. These women, once bound by the oppressive tradition of exploiting sloth bears for entertainment, have risen to become symbols of resilience and change.

The Kalandar community, historically linked to the practice of ‘dancing’ bears, has seen its women trapped in a cycle of poverty and marginalization. Wildlife SOS, recognizing the dual plight of these women and the animals involved, launched the Tribal Rehabilitation Programme across several Indian states, including Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and West Bengal.

The Wildlife SOS Tribal Rehabilitation Programme has been instrumental in providing education and economic support to Kalandar women.

The programme has played an instrumental role in providing Kalandar women with education and economic support, allowing them to become the primary breadwinners for their families. Wildlife SOS directed seed funds, provided skill training, and assisted with marketing, enabling the women of the community to transition from regressive practices to legally acceptable occupations. They have now established several convenience stores.

Rajiya Bee from Talera, Rajasthan, belongs to many Kalandar women experiencing a positive change in their lives. With Wildlife SOS's support, she has deviated from the 'dancing' bears practice and now operates a peanut stall.

Kartick Satyanarayan, Co-founder and CEO, Wildlife SOS, said, “Wildlife conservation efforts often overlook the needs of indigenous communities. This oversight creates a harmful vacuum in power dynamics and dialogue, hindering both the cause of conservation and community development. Their lives are intricately linked with nature, emphasising the importance of addressing their concerns in conservation strategies as a long-term solution to issues plaguing wildlife.” 

Through workshops and self-help groups Wildlife SOS also spread awareness about menstrual hygiene amongst the women of the community.

The programme didn’t stop at economic upliftment; it also tackled deep-rooted social issues. Workshops and self-help groups have been instrumental in addressing menstrual health stigma, empowering women to manage their reproductive health with dignity. Additionally, Wildlife SOS has been a vocal opponent of child marriage within the community, ensuring that women are aware of their rights and can make informed decisions about their lives.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, Wildlife SOS renews its pledge to empower Kalandar women, advocating for a society where gender equality and conservation go hand in hand. Their story is a testament to the power of collective action and the enduring spirit of women who dare to redefine their destinies.

The programme provided vocational training to the women in stitching and embroidery work which built their capacity to become financially stable.

Geeta Seshamani, Co-founder and Secretary of Wildlife SOS, said, “We are inspired by the resilience and determination of Kalandar women, who have embraced change with open arms through our programme. By defying patriarchal norms and advocating for gender equality, Kalandar women have emerged as champions of wildlife conservation within their communities.”

On this International Women's Day, Wildlife SOS reaffirms its commitment to empowering Kalandar women and creating a more equitable and progressive society. Through collaboration and dedication, we can continue to break down barriers and build a brighter future for women everywhere.

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Tags: Kalandar community Empowering women