From Dacoit to 'Cheetah Mitra': The story of Ramesh Sikarwar, raising awareness about the wild cats coming to Kuno

Ramesh Sikarwar, 72, has been roped in by the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department as a 'Cheetah Mitra' to sensitise people on the spotted felines that are being brought to the state from Africa under the Centre's ambitious programme

Press Trust of India September 15, 2022 11:08:06 IST
From Dacoit to 'Cheetah Mitra': The story of Ramesh Sikarwar, raising awareness about the wild cats coming to Kuno

Ramesh Sikarwar has been roped in as 'Cheetah Mitra' (friend of cheetah) by the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department. Image Courtesy: @SantoshoOjha/Twitter

Sheopur: Ramesh Sikarwar once headed a gang of bandits that terrorised the rugged ravines of Chambal in Madhya Pradesh, but the former dacoit is now on a mission to raise awareness about cheetahs.

Sikarwar, who is now 72, has been roped in by the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department as ‘Cheetah Mitra’ (friend of cheetah) to sensitise people on the spotted felines that are being brought to the state from Africa under the Centre’s ambitious programme.

Eight cheetahs will be brought to Jaipur in Rajasthan from Namibia in Africa on 17 September in a cargo aircraft as part of an inter-continental translocation project and flown to the Kuno-Palpur National Park (KPNP) in Sheopur district of Madhya Pradesh the same day.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will release three of these cheetahs into the park’s quarantine enclosures on 17 September, his birthday, as part of the cheetah reintroduction programme, seven decades after the animal became extinct in India.

Talking to PTI, Sikarwar said, “Forest department employees approached me some time back to inform that a few influential persons in the society are being enrolled as ‘Cheetah Mitra’ and requested me to become one for raising awareness among the people about the big cat.”

From Dacoit to Cheetah Mitra The story of Ramesh Sikarwar raising awareness about the wild cats coming to Kuno

The last cheetah died in the country in 1947 in the Koriya district in present-day Chhattisgarh and the species was declared extinct from India in 1952. AFP

They told me that cheetahs are coming to Kuno National Park on Saturday, and this will help in the development of the region, he said.

“I have been donning a cap and sporting a ‘gamcha’ (cloth) as a ‘Cheetah Mitra’, and constantly meeting people to raise awareness among them about cheetahs,” he said.

The septuagenarian said he has instilled confidence among people about cheetahs.

“I am telling them that cheetah never attacks a human being and even if it comes out of the forest, there is no need to panic and they should immediately alert the nearest forest officials about it,” he said.

Karahal range’s forest ranger Prerna Dubey said, “We have appointed about 450 ‘Cheetah Mitras’, including Sikarwar. All of them are working in rural areas and have developed a solid information network. They are constantly raising awareness among the people about cheetahs and will continue to do so in future also.”

The former dacoit said he entered the badlands of Chambal ravines as his paternal uncle usurped his family’s land and whenever his father asked him to give him his share of the ancestral land and livestock, he always turned him away.

“After I grew up, I also requested my ‘chacha’ to give us our share of land. However, he not only refused but also filed a police complaint against me. That was the flash point and I murdered him to take revenge and entered the Chambal ravines,” Sikarwar said.

Till the time he surrendered in 1984, he was heading a gang of 32 dacoits. These members joined him as they had also faced injustice, he said.

Nearly 70-72 cases of murder and 15 to 30 cases of abduction were registered against Sikarwar at different police stations in 10 years, he added.

However, the call given by Gandhian activist Rajagopal P V during the term of former state Chief Minister Arjun Singh changed his life and he along with his gang members surrendered. They spent 10 years in Sabalgarh jail in Morena district before being released, Sikarwar said.

Following his release from jail, he ensured that 200-300 tribal families got their rights back in different ways and therefore, they treat him like a messiah, he added.

Sikarwar said that he would continue to follow Gandhian values and fight for the rights of the poor.

The last cheetah died in the country in 1947 in the Koriya district in present-day Chhattisgarh and the species was declared extinct from India in 1952.

The ‘African Cheetah Introduction Project in India’ was conceived in 2009. A plan to introduce the big cat in the KPNP by November last year had suffered a setback due to the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said.

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