Dr. Jitendra Kumar Jatav is currently working as Wildlife Veterinary Officer in Madhav National Park, Shivpuri. He is a well known wildlife expert and wildlife rescuer and has been nominated for many national and state level awards for wildlife conservation. He has also featured in many documentaries on International Wildlife TV channels.
Dr. Jatav, could you please tell us about your back ground?
I was born in Gwalior district, MP in 1973. My father is working as an artist in state’s Agriculture Department. My mother is a house wife and we are one sister and three brothers. Sister got married just after her higher secondary whereas both my brothers are polytechnic diploma holders and work in private firms.
Since my father was posted in district Morena so I did all my schooling from there and then qualified pre-medical test and joined Indira Gandhi Agricultural University, Raipur (Chhattisgarh) for Bachelor’s in Veterinary and Animal Husbandry. Later I also completed my PG Diploma in Wildlife Management from Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradoon.
Career in Wildlife is quite fascinating. What made you choose this as a career?
I must say this happened accidently but later I developed interest so much that it would have been a great personal loss, if I was doing anything else for my living. During my school days, I was quite good at Mathematics and was interested in pursuing it further. But my father had a completely different opinion. He wanted to see me as a Doctor so he changed my subject from Maths to Biology in class XIth.
His decision was quite interesting as both of us were completely unaware of the process for becoming a doctor and only knew that one needs to study Biology instead of Maths. Then gradually I became aware of Pre-Medical entrance exam and started my preparation. I applied twice for this exam but could not clear for admission in MBBS I think due to my poor English but was selected for course in Veterinary both the times. Finally I decided to take up this course instead of trying again for seat in MBBS course. I completed the course in 1999.
You have been quite good in studies, what have been your motivations?
I remember my grandfather quite vividly and perhaps he was the one who motivated me a lot. He lived in Gwalior, 25 km away from Morena where my father was posted. He had a habit of telling stories about great humanists like Kabir and Raidas. He always had small booklets about them in his pocket and would read to us word by word every time he visited our home.
Being from a very humble background, what was the major challenge during your student life?
Financial support was the main problem I guess. It was quite difficult for my father to support our studies and therefore I was admitted to government school from class IX onwards to be able to sustain my studies through government scholarships and subsidies for Dalit and Adivasi students. I did not have to pay any fees there and also used to get books free of cost. Without such government schemes, it would have been impossible for my father to finance my studies even in school. Later in my graduation also, I benefited from the government subsidies in the form of fee waivers. But for my other hostel expenses, I gave tuition classes for junior students.
Apart from finances what were the other challenges you have faced while pursuing your higher education?
I studied in a Hindi medium government school and therefore was not well versed with English. It was never a problem at school but when I joined college for my degree programme, this became a huge obstacle. Here the medium was English and I could not even understand what professors were saying in the class for first four–five months.
Second thing was complete lack of guidance and support system which I believe is a common problem for all the Dalit and Adivasi students. The college environment is quite alienating for our students and there is no one to encourage or even talk on these issues. Suddenly you are lonely there dealing with your anxieties, fear all alone. Mostly, our students just keep on going without knowing where they will land up.
Though I was little aware but did not know how to face this new situation in college. My performance in the first semester was not very satisfactory. Gradually with time, many of us overcame all these problems. All of us had to work hard on our English skills.
Initially I tried to mug up everything and reproduce it in the exams without understanding much about definitions and terms. Gradually I developed the habit of using dictionary and noting down meanings to improve my vocabulary and also to fight the fear of English terms and definitions.
Every professional college or institution in India is known for its biases and prejudices against Dalit and Adivasi students. What was in store for you while pursuing your course in veterinary?
Nothing much except getting lesser marks in practical exams as is the common practice in colleges (laughs). During my entire graduation period I never scored more than average marks in my practicals despite always being the first or second topper in theory papers.
Practical exams are marked internally whereas answer sheets of written exams are sent outside the institute for evaluation. So during practical exams, teachers mark you not much on your answers but more on your social background. It is a very common practice.
Dalits students get discriminated both ways. If you are good at studies, they give less marks and demoralise you. If you are already weak in studies, they have already good ‘reasons’ to discriminate you and make sarcastic remarks. No faculty says openly anything on your caste background but you can easily make out from their behaviour.
However the students from non-Dalit and non-Adivasi background are often more open about their prejudices and display in quite publically in hostel rooms, mess, playgrounds etc. They carry an impression that dalits have come here stepping on the rights of general students as they get admission despite scoring less marks.
And if they find some Dalit student performing much better than them, instead of changing their impressions, they make plans to obstruct his/her studies by every mean possible. I have been a witness of many such plans and some time a target too. It really becomes very difficult to maintain your focus in such an environment.
How did the Dalit students deal with such environment? Was there any Dalit or Adivasi student group active or faculties with whom one can share?
No there were no Dalit faculties in our campus, not even one. Our students were also not organised at all. In professional institutions, it is almost impossible to organise as the administration never allows formation of students groups apart for some extracurricular activities. Also our students don’t come forward. Even we don’t share our problems with each other. This is a huge problem. Most of the time we, ourselves, are in the denial mode and do not want to even identify the problem or even try to justify that by taking the entire blame on themselves. Our students survive mostly on their respective mental strength to remain focussed on their studies. Also by the time you realise and start thinking about strategies, half of your course is over. Each one of us just wanted to complete our studies howsoever, being in the most crucial phase of our lives.
I was bit fortunate and did not suffer much identity crisis in the college. May be it was because of my grandfather’s valuable lessons. He was quite vocal about the caste discrimination being follower of Kabir and Raidas and was very conscious person. Perhaps his social consciousness rubbed on me since my early childhood.
After completing your degree in Veterinary, what were the career options you thought about?
After my graduation, I came back and started preparing for Civil Services (IAS). I thought by becoming a collector, I would be able to make meaningful contribution to my family as well as to the community. However I had to change my mind as my family financial situation was really bad. I lived in hostel for many years; so could understand the gravity of the situation only when I came back to home. Preparing for civil services requires lot of financial support along with total concentration and therefore I dropped this idea and decided to work to support my family. Little later, I started working for private firm and worked there for one year. However I kept preparing for various competitive exams in my subject area and competed successfully for the post of Wildlife Officer held by Madhya Pradesh Public Service Commission in 1999 and joined in the year 2000.
You have earned quite a name in Wildlife Conservation field. Please share with us some of your achievements.
Because of my interest and some hard work I got many opportunities and projects which I could handle successfully. I really cherish my role in curbing the mortality rate among ghadiyal (alligator) at National Chambal Sanctuary in 2008-09. I was selected to be part of the rescue team as veterinarian and worked with world famous wildlife conservationist Rom Whitaker who was leading the team. BBC made a documentary of that with a name Crocodile Blue. We worked in Chambal ravines and stayed there for months and finally were able to curb the alligator’s mortality rate. Similarly there was a disease outbreak among peacocks in Shivpuri National Park which we were able to handle quite efficiently. There are many such projects where I feel I have performed well.
Considering my work, I was twice nominated for ‘Amrita Devi Bishnoi Award’ and once for ‘State Award for Wildlife Conservation’ but was never selected whereas I have seen people being awarded with much less works and achievements. I cannot say this happens due to my social background but I am very disappointed. However, I keep myself motivated as I am very much in love with wild life and also all the appreciations and encouragement which I get from all the people whom I work with.
Apart from your work, you have been a keen participant in the Dalit movement. What has been your contribution?
Being a government servant and having time constraints, I am not able to contribute much directly but I keep on trying to explore the possibilities and one area I have really focussed is supporting our students. Whenever I get a chance, I do talk to them about studies and career and try to guide them as per my capacity. Many of the students got inspired by my job and had opted for carrier in veterinary and wildlife. I help them by showing the way.
I am also part of a local group of professionals that organises various socio-cultural programmes in Guna, Shivpuri and Gwalior that tries to bring the community together on one platform on occasions like that of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Birth Anniversary. Now being part of Insight’s mentorship programme I am looking forward to support our students from across the country, especially those who are interested in my area.
As a group we are committed towards working with our students, what are your suggestions to all of us who are interested in the area of education?
I firmly believe that education is the key for our empowerment and if we are well educated then we can contribute much more meaningfully for the empowerment of our community. As a group, we must advise our students to focus on their studies and also to become aware about what is happening around them. Both are important. One cannot ignore any of the both. Also I believe that our students should become more ambitious and go for higher education in spite of all the difficulties which we face. We must learn from our idol Babasaheb Ambedkar and always remember his motto –Educate, Agitate and Organise.
Also a group working for students in Higher Education, my humble suggestion is to also keep the deteriorating conditions of government schools in our mind. We cannot afford to lose them to government inefficiency and disinterest in maintaining the standards as overwhelming majority of our students study in these schools. We have to make intervention right there at the school level together with working in the area of higher education.
Then as my experience shows we need to mobilise our students at the higher education level especially those studying in professional colleges. The level of discrimination is quite high there and the tragedy is that most of our students are quite unaware of the discriminatory process working in these campuses. Without mobilising and organising them, there is no possibility that such processes will ever stop. In short, we need a strong platform that is able to address the concerns, insecurities of our students and is able to give them the courage and sense of solidarity to deal with the campus environment much more effectively and confidently.