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Assam’s ‘Elephant Girl’ Gets Padma Shri

Parbati Baruah spent 40 years addressing and reducing human-elephant conflicts and fought against gender stereotypes in this profession….reports Asian Lite News

Parbati Baruah, aged 67, affectionately dubbed the ‘Elephant Girl’ (Hasti Kanya) in Assam, has been honoured with the Padma Shri. She holds the distinction of being India’s pioneer female mahout, or elephant keeper.

Baruah got the award in recognition of her work in animal conservation and dispelling preconceptions to make a name for women in a field that has historically been dominated by men.

Born into the Gauripur royal family in the Goalpara district of Assam, Barua and her father Prakritish Barua caught their first elephant together when Barua was 14 years old in the Kachugaon woods of Kokrajhar district.

She spent 40 years addressing and reducing human-elephant conflicts and fought against gender stereotypes in this profession. Human-elephant confrontations have a long history in Assam, and Baruah was instrumental in developing government regulations to keep them under control.

She developed into a master at taming wild elephants. Her expertise on the behavior of elephants made her well-known not just in Assam but also in nearby states — West Bengal and Odisha.

Baruah also assisted the forest authorities in driving the troublemakers back into the forests from agricultural fields.

‘Queen of the Elephants’ is the title of a book written about her by British travel writer and naturalist Mark Roland Shand, published in 1996. Later, the BBC produced a documentary that was widely praised.

Following at least 40 years of continuous service as a mahout, Parbati committed her life to animal conservation, and she is presently a part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Asian Elephant Specialist Group (IUCN).

This is her family’s second Padma honor. The central government earlier also awarded the renowned folk singer Pratima Pandey Barua, her sister, a Padma Shri.

Pramathesh Barua, an award-winning filmmaker, is also related to this family.

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