by Ameen Ahmed and Anil Cherukupalli
(Note: First published on WWF-India’s website. The following modified version appeared subsequently on WWF’s Global Intranet.)
Meet the Pardis
Hardly a community in India’s recent history has been more affected by changing laws and times than the Pardis. A nomadic tribe spread across the central states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, the Pardis have depended on forests for their livelihoods for countless generations. In particular, they hunt wildlife.
The erstwhile Maharajas, recognizing the Pardis’ considerable skills, employed them to drive wildlife toward the kings’ hunting parties. Many farmers in central India employed Pardis to guard against crop-raiding wild animals; the deal was that the Pardis could keep the meat of the animals they caught.
Within the Pardis community, there are divisions according to various occupations and hunting practices. For example, the Phaandiya Pardis hunt their quarry using a rope noose. The Teliya Pardis sell meat and oil extracted from reptiles they capture. But the most remarkable aspect of hunting by Pardis is their total dependence on traditional means and basic equipment, like rope, wooden clubs and knives, to bring down wildlife. They rarely use a search light, vehicles or guns.
Troubled times: post-Independence and the Wildlife Protection Act
The British treated most Pardis as social pariahs. Most of their sub-sects were included in the list of “criminal tribes” in the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871. Though the act was overturned after independence in 1952 and they were “de-notified,” the historical stigma remains.
Life for the Pardis took a dramatic turn for the worse in 1972, when the Indian government adopted the Wildlife Protection Act. Pardis were not only prohibited from entering many of the state-controlled lands, now designated as protected forests, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, but overnight they were also required to stop hunting.