New Delhi: In a country where male-dominated culture has been prevalent for years, it is not easy for women to progress in any field. But Parbati Barua, the country’s first female mahout, has challenged this stereotype with her passion and courage. Parbati Barua, also known as ‘Hathi Ki Pari’ or ‘Elephant Princess’, is a legend in the world of elephant conservation and welfare. She has dedicated her life to the gentle giants and has earned the respect and admiration of many. Here is her brave and inspiring story of women’s empowerment.
A Childhood Love for Elephants
Parbati Barua was born in 1954 in Gauripur, Assam, as one of nine children of the late Prakritish Chandra Barua, the last ruler of the royal family of Gauripur¹. Her father was an internationally renowned expert on elephants and had 40 elephants in his royal stables. He used to take his family on long trips in the forests with a large entourage that included servants, cooks, and a private tutor for his children.
Parbati was not interested in playing with dolls or studying in school. She was fascinated by wildlife and enjoyed being outdoors. She developed a keen sense of understanding and interest in elephants and spent much of her time in the jungles along with her father. She learned the art and science of elephant management from him and became his trusted assistant.
At the age of 14, Parbati captured her first wild elephant in the Kachugaon forests of the Kokrajhar district. Her father congratulated her and gave her the title of ‘Hasti Kanya’ or ‘Elephant Daughter’. Since then, she has mastered the art of rounding up and taming elephants and has become a mahout, an Indian term for an elephant tamer and caretaker.
A Life of Adventure and Service
Parbati’s journey of becoming a mahout was not easy. She faced many challenges and dangers in the wild. She also had to deal with the social stigma and prejudice of being a woman in a male-dominated field. But she never gave up on her dreams and proved herself with her skills and bravery.
In 1970, the abolition of the privy purse dealt a heavy blow to Parbati and her family. They lost their royal privileges and income and had to survive by selling elephants and providing their services to timber businesses. Parbati also started working as a freelance mahout and trainer for various government and private agencies.
Parbati has been working towards reducing human-elephant conflict for years. She has helped three state governments in dealing with and capturing wild elephants that pose a threat to human lives and property. She has also played an important role in saving the lives of many people and wild elephants with her wisdom and knowledge. She has rescued injured and orphaned elephants and nursed them back to health. She has also trained many young mahouts and educated them about elephant behavior and welfare.
Parbati has three elephant daughters: Lakshmimala, Aloka, and Kanchanmala. She lives with them in Guwahati and treats them as her family. She takes care of their daily needs and rides them in the jungle. She also makes hadiya, a rice-based treat, for her beloved elephants, who have a fondness for liquor. She says, “They [The elephants] love me because I understand their sentiments. One call and they all come running to me.”
A Recognition of Honour and Pride
Parbati Barua has gained prominence and fame for her amazing contribution to elephant conservation and welfare. She has been featured in several national and international media outlets and documentaries. She was the subject of a BBC documentary titled ‘Queen of the Elephants’ based on her life, along with the companion book by Mark Shand. She is also a member of the Asian Elephant Specialist Group, IUCN.
On India’s 75th Republic Day, Parbati Barua was honored with the Padma Shri, the country’s fourth-highest civilian award, for her outstanding work in the field of social work (animal welfare). She is the first female mahout to receive this prestigious recognition. She is also the sister of Pratima Barua Pandey, a famous folk singer, and the niece of Pramathesh Barua, a legendary filmmaker.
Parbati Barua is an inspiration for all those women who want to do something different in life and want to make a name for themselves. She is a role model for the younger generation of mahouts and elephant lovers. She is a true queen of the elephants and a pride of India.