Suraj Bai Meena Is Ranthambore’s First Woman Guide
Suraj Bai Meena became Ranthambore’s first woman guide and naturalist when she was 16 years old, in 2007. She bravely pursued her love despite hostility from her family and society, with the sole backing of her brother, Hemraj. For over 15 years at Ranthambore National Park. She has garnered honours such as’ Best Lady Guide ‘from the Maharaja of Jaipur, as well as being featured in several wildlife books and national media.
Her story is an inspiration to women, and it has resulted in a significant shift in the village’s gender discriminatory mentality.
In an interview with CN Traveller, Suraj described the difficulties of working in a male-dominated sector and shattering stereotypes held by her family and the village in which she grew up.
Coming from a huge joint family with six brothers, none of her brothers or parents supported her other than Hemraj. “I had accompanied my brother Hemraj to the jungle on numerous occasions.” I had a good time. But the other guides in the forest weren’t as encouraging… everyone would make fun of us. I quickly discovered that if you back out, they will threaten you much more. Silence is associated with weakness. You have to be brave; when people mocked me, I would respond.”
I quickly discovered that if you back out, they will threaten you much more. Silence is associated with weakness. You have to be brave; when people mocked me, I would respond
Despite the odds, Suraj persevered in the pursuit of her goals. All of this would not have been possible without the help of her brother, Hemraj, a naturalist in the national park. He was also Suraj’s source of inspiration. She wished to be like her brother.
Hemraj persuaded his family to send Sooraj to school, which was considered a form of disobedience at the time. She relocated to Sawai Modhput to attend education.
Suraj joined the park as a naturalist soon after completing her training, but her problems didn’t stop there. Her success did not bring her family’s approval. She was constantly mocked for working out and dealing with foreigners who could corrupt her. Her brother was a blessing and protection in the midst of the mayhem.
Suraj has built a name for herself today because of her perseverance and hard work, and the support of her brother, husband, and in-laws. She took the risk of pursuing her aspirations, which gradually changed the thinking of the people in her hamlet. Young girls from her village are studying, searching for employment, and investigating options outside of their area. Suraj says, “I am thankful that this change has happened.”
“There are so many things that we girls can achieve if we are supported.”- Suraj Bai Meena
Suraj progressed from being a girl who was not permitted to study to a woman who defied preconceptions by completing her BA, MA, and B Ed degrees while working and raising her two children. Suraj has learned a lot over the last 15 years and will continue to learn in the future. “Seeing an animal, whether it’s a tiger, sloth bear, deer, or even a bird, is just as wonderful as the first time,” she adds of each journey.
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