A Tigress Among Men, Ranthambore’s First Woman Naturalist

Meet Suraj Bai Meena, who fought against her village and strong prejudice against women to become Ranthambore National Park’s first woman naturalist.

Among all the male naturalists of Ranthambore National Park, Suraj Bai Meena stands tall as the first female naturalist of the place. She fought against all odds and successfully became a naturalist and has conducted over 7,000 guided tours yet.

Suraj was born and brought up in a small village named Bhuri Pahadi near the Ranthambore National Park. In her village, women’s job was to just cook, clean and reproduce. The girls were not sent to school. But Suraj’s brother Hemraj worked at the national park as a naturalist and following him Suraj often visited the national park. This inspired her to become a naturalist. Because of her brother’s insistence, she was allowed to enroll in a school.

When Suraj completed her training and joined the national park as a naturalist she faced many taunts. Her family commented that being around foreign tourists will corrupt her. But she did not let any of these get to her. Her entire village, which believed that girls belonged at home, tried to make her quit her job, but Suraj did not budge. Through all these ups and downs her brother Hemraj supported her.

As a person who had grown up among nature, Suraj’s knowledge about the animals and birds of the national park was unparalleled. However, she had to learn communication skills. She had started learning the English alphabet only in class 10 since she was in a Hindi Medium School. She dedicated herself to learning English.

Suraj is an expert on tigers and is equipped with the skill of identifying each tiger in the Ranthambore National Park. In her own words, her knowledge of being a naturalist is equal to a PhD. Suraj has received awards like ‘Best Lady Guide’ by the Maharaja of Jaipur, amongst other accolades.

Having a desire to learn Suraj has also completed her BA, MA, and B Ed over the years. She achieved this all while working and managing her home and two children. She has been working for 15 years as a naturalist and guide. However, Suraj says that even now, each trip feels like it’s her first.

Suraj Bai Meena is an inspiration for all the girls and women in small villages. She proved that the impossible is possible with determination and a willingness to learn.

-Poorna Krishnan 

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