Though she lacks any formal scientific training in herding back crop-raiding wild elephants to their forest environs, 38-year-old R. Valliyamma looks confident in her new role as the first woman in Kerala to head a unit of Forest Department’s Rapid Action Force to mitigate escalating human-animal conflicts.
“My selection to this post proves managing wild elephants is no more a male bastion. My growing up in forest fringe tribal village Vadakottathara in Attappady as member of a family with harmonious relationship with the wild animals has provided me enough capability to carry out this challenging job. I know elephants and their behavioural patterns since schildhood,” said Valliyamma in an interaction with The Hindu a day after taking charge as RAF unit head at Agali under Mannarkkad Forest Division.
She is now leading a 10-member team comprising two beat forest officers and five forest watchers in Agali region, where wild pachyderms from Coimbatore and Nilgiris districts of Tamil Nadu engage in regular crops raiding apart from posing threat to the lives of local community.
She is getting the new responsibility hardly four months after being promoted as a Section Forest Officer, the first woman in that post in Kerala. In the previous role, she had to manage a section of wild under Mannarkkad Forest Division. As far as Valliyamma is concerned, this is her 15th year with the Forest Department.
The Irula tribal woman had begun her service with Kerala government as a forest guard and her initial years were in fact a hard struggle to rein in sandalwood smugglers and ganja cultivators who roam the Attappady forests.
“I had been fighting hunters, ganja cultivators and sandalwood smugglers with the help of my colleagues in the department. There were instances in which we collectively seized sandalwood pieces weighing more than 35 kg,” she said.
Before becoming section forest officer, her designation was Beat Forest Officer.
“After failing pre-degree, I was working as an Anganwadi helper. My engagement with forest protection began after getting selected under a special recruitment drive by the Kerala Public Service Commission. But my family and friends were initially worried because the job was too risky,” said Valliyamma.
“My parents were nominal farmers and the land we inherited was barren. I married Sivan, a weaver. But he lost his job when the local weaving centre closed down. To make ends meet, I became an Anganwadi worker. The job exposed me to the world outside and I was determined to find a government job,” recalled the mother of two school-going children.
Apart from her official assignments, Valliyamma is also the secretary of the Adivasi Forest Protection Samithy at Melechavadiyoor. The tribal collective is engaged in social forestry apart from coordinating with the Forest Department to collect forest produce. “Fear never prevented me from going deep inside the forests for conservation-related matters. I prefer working outside than going through files in office,” she said.
She is the first person in her extended family to enter government service. “The new responsibility is reflection of the absolute faith my superiors have in me. I will live up to their expectations,” she said.
source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> News> States> Kerala / by K A Shaji / Allapady (Palakkad) / November 26th, 2017