Jaipur: Sat breastfeeding in the Indian sun, the woman is not just nursing her own child, but a baby orphaned fawn.
The sight may be a shock to outsiders, but here amongst the ‘Bishnoi’ tribe, animals are just as much a part of the family as their own offspring.
Nursing mothers here in this remote region in Rajasthan, a state in northern India, have taken in orphaned and injured fawns for more than half a century – and couldn’t imagine it being any other way.
‘These baby deers are my life and they’re like my own children,’ said Mangi Devi Bishnoi, 45, a housewife from one of the villages.
‘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.’
The people of the Bishnoi community, a religious group of nature worshippers, live next to jungles and deserted areas and often grow up playing with all sorts of animals – and in fear of none.
Roshini Bishnoi, 21, a student in one of the villages, told MailOnline: ‘I have grown up with these little deers.
‘They’re like my brother or sister. It is our responsibility to keep them healthy and help them grow.
‘We play with them and we communicate with each other, they understand our language.’
Neighbour Ram Jeevan Bishnoi, 24, 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.’
The Bishnoi community, which comprises of around 2,000 homes, have followed the Hindu Guru Sri Jambeshwar Bhagwan since the 15th century and religiously obey 29 rules suggested by their Guru.
One is the protection and love of animals and nature. They take care of the flora, fauna and protect the animals from the summer heat or potential poachers.
However, the deer is believed to be a sacred animal of the community and is given special attention.
Ram Jeevan said: ‘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.’