ASSAM: In an unprecedented move, Parbati Baruah, fondly called ‘Hathi ki Pari’ (angel for elephants), is set to receive the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian award. Breaking gender stereotypes associated with the profession, at the age of 70, Parbati is celebrated as the country's first female elephant keeper or 'mahout' President Draupadi Murmu with an award a high will place him and 110 other outstanding individuals.
Hailing from the royal family of Gauripur in Dhubri in eastern Assam, Parbati has been surrounded by elephants since childhood. Researching her family history, she said her family owns an elephant barn, where elephants are raised and trained.
Despite her royal upbringing, Parbati’s passion for looking after elephants has already manifested itself, putting her on the path to becoming a pioneer in a male-dominated field Parbati trained more than 600 stunted elephants and trained the handlers. She has participated in numerous workshops, conferences and seminars throughout the country and has spent over four decades addressing human-elephant conflict.
Initiating her journey at the age of 14, Parbati learned her skills from her father and mentor, Prakritish Chandra Barua. Initially facing resistance due to the traditionally male-dominated nature of the job, she persevered and acquired all her elephant-training and care skills from her father.
Reflecting on her journey, Parbati emphasized the importance of coexistence with elephants and called for conservation of their habitat which she enjoyed since her early childhood days. She emphasized the need for collective efforts to protect nature and preserve forests, stressing the role of individuals in reducing human-elephant conflict. This sentiment of her is well supported by her friends and family.
Talking about the ongoing human-animal conflict, she said it was from constant encroachment on wildlife habitats and poaching. Parbati urged the public to actively support nature conservation, stressing that governments alone could not meet these challenges.