In the western part of the Thar region of the country, lives India’s first truly environmentalist community, the Bishnois. These followers of Guru Jambeshwar have survived since the 15th century by following his 29 principles. Eight of those 29 tenets ask them to preserve and protect all kinds of flora and fauna. In keeping with this kind of devotion to nature, the breastfeeding mothers of this religious group can often be seen feeding young fawns.
The Bishnois live in areas of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan, and treat the animals of these regions like family. They believe that causing damage to the environment is just as bad as harming oneself. They are vegetarians, since nature is holy to them. Even though they are Hindu, they perform burial rituals when someone dies, because that doesn’t require them to burn trees, and the decomposing bodies enrich the soil.
Animals are often seen grazing the fields in Bishnoi areas without any fear. This community also strictly opposes poaching. In 2013, Rajesh Bedi published a coffee table book, Rajasthan: Under the Desert Sky, in which he featured Kiran Bishnoi breastfeeding a three-month-old fawn. She had fended off wild dogs that killed the fawn’s mother, and rescued it. She brought the fawn home, named her Aarti, and breastfed her along with her own daughter, till she grew up and was released into nature.
45-year-old Mangi Devi Bishnoi told Daily Mail:
“These baby deers are my life and they’re like my own children. I feed them milk and food and ensure they’re given proper care and attention in the house like all my family members.
They are not orphans when they have us around, they have new mothers like me who offer them a mother’s feed for a healthy life.”
24-year-old Ram Jeevan Bishnoi added:
“We do not see them as just animals. They are very much like a family member. We take care of everything they may need to live a healthy life. We keep them protected in our house so that dangerous animals like wild dogs do not harm them. If they’re injured we keep them safe in our house and treat them like our children.
My parents have never differentiated between a baby deer and me. We are one family and it is in our religion to protect them. We have followed this way of living for over 550 years with a lot of love and affection.
We are very protective of our animals, especially the babies. We are helping them. Feeding them is what they need. We are very proud of what we do.”