Thiruvananthapuram, Dec 1: Snake catching is a profession largely associated with men, but 33-year old J R Raji from Kerala has ventured into this male bastion and made a name for herself.
Be it a hissing Cobra or poisonous viper or deadly python, Raji is never in fear as she is known to handle them with aplomb. Hailing from Nanniyode village in nearby Palode located at the foothills of Western Ghats, catching snakes is more of a social service for her.
The woman, who grew up nurturing a passion to become a snake catcher, has rescued 119 snakes in the last nine months from various parts of Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam districts, breaking the gender stereotype in snake-catching. Cobras used to hiss ferociously, with their hoods spread and flicking their slippery tongue out, when she tries to catch them.
Many deadly pythons and poisonous vipers have even tried to bite her as she held them in her hands. However, all these have not stopped the homemaker from continuing as a snake-catcher. The woman, who took to snake-catching out of curiosity and a liking towards the reptile, has now become a saviour of serpents in the region which come out of its traditional habitat and stray into human settlements due to various reasons including climate change.
She has come to provide solace to local people who get jittery after seeing a snake in their backyard or room as they can call her for immediate help any time. Over 70 cobras, 11 vipers, seven pythons, a handful of kraits and other local varieties are among the serpents, which she rescued from human habitations and released into forest.
A degree drop-out, Raji said catching a king cobra, one of the most dangerous and venomous snake variety, is still a dream for her.
"Ours is a forest fringe village and we have been seeing many types of snakes from early days. So I never had any fear of snake since my childhood," Raji told PTI.
"Instead, I was curious to touch it. That intense desire was the first urge to become a snake-catcher. Snake catching is more like a passion for me," the home-maker said after one of her missions during which she caught a viper.
Except attending an one-day coaching class some time back, she does not have any professional training in snake catching. A mother of two school-going girls, Raji rides her scooter to each place from where she gets calls seeking help to remove snakes from their area. Her husband accompanies her if she gets calls late at night, she said.
After catching each snake, Raji pats it on its back, kisses its hood and puts it in tiny sacks or plastic containers with holes. If it is ferocious and venomous, she hands it over to the nearest Forest office and if non-poisonous, she releases it at a safe place as per direction of Forest department personnel.
"I never ask for money to catch snakes. If people offer some donation, I accept it and never bargain. If those seeking help are poor and elderly, I never accept money even if they offer," she said.
A driver by profession, Raji drives a jeep and pick-up van to make both ends meet. Though she has rescued over 100 snakes risking life, the woman said she has never suffered a snake bite so far adding no snake was also hurt.
"I consider snake-catching as a humble social service. It is helping people, risking life. I will continue it," a proud Raji added.