Community Outreach

By : Vidya Venkatesh and Bhavna Menon

The Pardhis of Panna

The crash in India’s tiger population from some 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century to only a  couple of thousand by the end of it has been attributed largely to a community called the Pardhis. Pardhis are a nomadic community that since the time of the Mughal emperors, have been hired to help in shikar (hunting), whether it was for sport for the British or for the royal kitchens of the ‘zameendars’ (landowners). The community’s traditional occupation is hunting, just as their name suggests. The Marathi word ‘paradh’ means hunt. The extinction of tigers in Panna Tiger Reserve (Madhya Pradesh) by 2009 was primarily owing to this community’s activities inside the forests of Panna. However, in order to begin the process of reintroduction of tigers the same year in the landscape, the Forest Department initiated a dialogue with the community members, and resettled around 50 Pardhi families outside the Tiger Reserve and initiated 2 hostels for both girls and boys. The idea was to primarily wean the next generation away from hunting and to enjoy a dignified place in society

Present occupation of the elders in the community

While the children were weaned away from hunting towards a world of education, it is the adults of the community at Panna, who after giving up hunting of the big cats, struggled to practice an alternative source of livelihood, until they decided to go back to the basics of their knowledge of nature. Only this time, they used this inherent knowledge for the better. Some of the current professions practiced by this incredible community living in Panna are –

Sale of herbs and products for health and well being

Pardhis use their traditional knowledge of the forest by procuring herbs to cure almost anything from dog/scorpion bite to blood purification to migraines. Some of such herbs used and sold are –

Aandhi – A type of herb which is said to be instrumental in relieving migraines and blinding headaches.

White Kasturi – is said to be very effective for relieving pneumonia, fever cough and cold, especially in young children. A strong fragrance, it is said to attract dogs and people using it are warned of canid interaction.

Lahsan or garlic- oil is said to be particularly cooling and helps relieve tension, stress and even calm a bad tempered person. A particularly pungent odour it is said to clear up symptoms of stress.

Gulisar or kalesur- is a type of herb found in the forest which is recommended for use in case of a snake bite. It is ground with pepper and mixed with water which can be then given to the snake bite victim. This concoction is said to stabilise the patient for almost 12 hours while she/ he is driven to the hospital for treatment.

Ingua- is a type of herb which is used mainly for stomach aches and pains. It is given to the patient by mixing it with jaggery.

ZeherKuchla- is used in case of a dog bite. The herb is broken and then applied as a paste to the affected area. It is to be used 2-3 times a day.

Kesar – is used in its pure or unadulterated form for the purification of blood and Rudraksh is said to be good for the overall health, especially the heart and is worn as a pendant.

Opportunistic work in agriculture

Pardhis are often called upon by farmers to trap wild boars that cause crop damage in farms. After trapping the wild boar, the Pardhis are allowed to take it for meat for sale or as a means of personal consumption as the farmers in turn get some relief from these crop raiding animals. These community members are also called upon by farmers to save their crops from destruction owing to untimely hail stones (around Dussehra) which are said to cause crop loss. Pardhis perform a ritual or ‘puja’ wherein they mark the concerned area and pray for the farm to be safe. Said to be a long ritual, the farmers reward the community members by giving them the farm produce like ‘wheat’ etc. As of now there is only one Pardhi family in Panna which practices farming. Some of the crops grown by this family are chana(gram), til(sesame), alsi(linseed) and arhar(pigeon pea).

Child Education

Sale of trinkets and bangles and charms

Nag ‘mani’ – Pardhis as a community believe that once a snake has lived over 100 years, it develops a ‘mani’ or a valuable stone which can provide the owner with a whole plethora of riches, good health and happiness. To this effect, they sell their own version of the ‘mani’ which is said to glow at night giving it a supernatural appearance and is thus sold at a high price.

Ekmukhirudraksh – is believed to be auspicious by the locals. It is carved from a fruit, which is first soaked overnight and then allowed to blacken. The fruit skin is then carved into beautiful shapes resembling snakes, Shivas’ trident and other abstract patterns. The carving is undertaken with the help of a knife made by the Pardhis which also is used to carve the ‘teetar’ whistles. It is also worn as a pendant and is said to have the unique ability to rotate when placed between two coins. It is also sold during Nag Panchami as a celebration of Lord Shiva. Another interesting trinket is the Nazarbatoo which is a type of charm in form of a stone, which is coloured black to ward off evil and to keep the wearer safe of any mishaps. It is often strung together as a chain and put on small children. There are  said to be two types of nazarbatoos, one worn by Hindus and one worn by Muslims. While the one worn by Hindus depicts the form of Hanuman, the one worn by Muslims is plain. Some nazarbatoos are also shaped as ‘nagfani’ or snake head. The community members are also involved in the sale of bracelets and necklaces, which they buy from places outside Panna, and are then resold at the local markets at Panna.

Education of the younger generation

Last Wilderness Foundation has been engaging with the students studying in the above-mentioned hostels for the past 5 years, which has resulted in 5 of the students from the Pardhi hostels to pursue their graduation. While of the 5 students, 2 of the boys’ are pursuing their B.Sc Agriculture, 3 of the girls are pursuing their B.A (Arts). This step up in the positive direction, has set a standard in their community, thereby motivating other students and weaning them away from a nomadic life, to one which will enable them to enjoy a dignified place in society. To this effect 10 students from the said hostels are pursuing their higher education, supported by donors.

Alternative means of livelihood

In order for a community to move away from their traditional occupation, in this case hunting, it was important to offer the community, meaningful occupations based on their line of education, or something which complements their tradition and culture, as was started with ‘Walk with the Pardhis’  in 2018, which is an alternative source of livelihood for the community members conceptualised by channelising the age-old knowledge of the forest, bird and animal mimicry and the skills of identifying animal tracks and signs possessed by the community members. The idea is to take tourists on walk in the wilderness and understand the forest as the Pardhis do. The walk can be undertaken by the tourists on a designated trail led by a Pardhi guide. This project was undertaken with the support of the Management of Panna Tiger Reserve and Taj Safaris intended to provide employment opportunities to the Pardhi youth who dropped out from the school / Pardhi hostel. Both girls and boys have been trained as guides for this initiative and till now have led close to 700 walks with the tourists. Apart from the Walk with the Pardhis initiative, opportunities for the community has been provided in form of poultry rearing as a sustainable means of livelihood, as it is, easily marketable, cost effective and is a good source of calcium and boosts immunity. The initiative will be further strengthened by tying up with companies in the city who will provide chicks and then buyback once reared and ready to sell for ‘desi’ or broiler chicken. Another idea is to tie up with the animal husbandry department for hardy and popular species and tying up with resorts and open markets for buying of eggs and chickens from these concerned units. Training Pardhi girls with regard to setting up of a beauty parlour-cumtailoring unit, which can also act as a sustainable means of livelihood, as it is, easily marketable, will make the identified individuals, in this case, the girls, financially independent, help with confidence building and has flexible work hours and piloting the use of an e- rickshaw, which  is an environmentally sustainable and durable vehicle, and will be available to ply tourists as well as everyday passengers
on a daily basis. Another aim is to double up the vehicle as a ‘city tour’ vehicle in a soon to be announced ‘Panna darshan’ initiative.

The way forward
Even though the community is sustaining themselves economically and the younger generation is being weaned away from the traditional occupation of hunting, there is a radical need for the empowerment of  this community, with a few recommendations being –

1) Support the education of Pardhi students.

2) Have options for interested volunteers from cities to coach/mentor students for careers of interest.

3) Contact and collaborate with a organizations that are working towards Pardhi empowerment so as to gain insight into the work being done and replicate models, wherever possible. This will not only help organisations work towards a common goal but will also ensure optimum utilisation of resources and exchange of ideas.

4) Provide with job opportunities – working with NGOs who can engage adults and provide them with job opportunities.

5) Help create content to advertise and promote the existing alternate means of livelihood.

6) Help the Pardhi youth and elders in the community engage and exchange of ideas, traditions, and the steady transformation by way of webinars, conferences, and discussions.

The COVID – 19 effect

The community was significantly hit during the pandemic during which aid was provided to Pardhi families in 4-5 districts in and around Panna Tiger Reserve. Being a nomadic community without a permanent address, a lot of the families did not have a ration card and hence could not avail of the Govt. schemes of food supplies. To this effect, close to 300 families were provided immediate relief, throughout the months of April, May and June with funds raised through a continuous call-to-action on various social media platforms. Apart from food supplies, the families were also made aware of the precautionary measures to be taken to be more resilient in the face of the ongoing pandemic along with distribution of soaps to maintain hygienic standards. Among the families impacted were our Pardhi guides from our Walk with the Pardhis initiative who had been affected significantly due to lack of tourism. The guides were given interim relief money from the donations raised to weather out the difficult times to provide them with sustainable means of income and regular sessions were held with the guides on strengthening communication skills (via online sessions), gaining in-depth knowledge of floral and faunal life via regular interactions and awareness sessions on dealing with guests during and post pandemic with regard to social distancing and better hygiene standards. The time was also used for large scale publicity of the walk. This apart, alternative means of livelihood were undertaken wherein, some of the Pardhi girls were given beautician training, boys were provided with poultry farming training and with the help of a large-scale public campaign, the first e- rickshaw was bought for the community to operate. However, the engagement with the community is far from over, and there is a dire need for constant support to the communities in this landscape so as to protect the fast growing population of tigers (60 at present) relocated from different tiger reserves owing to the tireless efforts of the forest department and to avoid the debacle of 2009, wherein the population of tigers had become zero.

To help support our initiatives in empowering the community and for protection of our wilderness spaces, please consider donating at – For more information, please write to –

Profile of LWF : Last Wilderness Foundation (LWF) an organisation that was founded in 2009, works towards conservation outreach- focusing primarily on Human – Wildlife conflict, capacity building with the Forest Department frontline staff and creation of livelihood opportunities for communities that live around the tiger reserves at Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Panna Tiger Reserves of Madhya Pradesh, in tandem with the Forest Department.

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