For the past several months, elephant owners in Kerala (India) have been protesting to lift the ban preventing Ramachandran, one of the State’s tallest and most popular captive elephants, from taking part in the Thrissur Pooram, an iconic festival in the State. Over the years, Raman, as he is lovingly called, has been a festival favourite, but was barred after he ran amok last February, killing two people and injuring several others. Such a ban, if lifted, goes directly against the order issued by the Chief Wildlife Warden that banned the parading of elephants during festivals. In the past, this tusker has killed around eleven people and three other elephants. Yet, Facebook and WhatsApp pages had been been created by Raman’s ‘fans’ to ‘save’ him, and the Collector’s office has been bombarded with messages and protests to permit him to participate in the Pooram.
Despite various laws such as the Wildlife Protection Act, the Kerala Captive Elephants (Management and Maintenance) Rules, and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, captive elephants have been repeatedly mistreated and paraded across the State in the name of festivities. For many years now, several efforts, legal and otherwise, have been made by the Animal Welfare Board of India, animal welfare organisations and animal activists across the country. According to a report published by the PETA in 2017, elephants during the Thrissur Pooram were “restrained and controlled using very short heavy metal chains, tied on three or all four legs and over the body, which did not allow any natural movement during the entire event. They were forced to stand for long hours, in the hot and humid climate, without adequate protection from the overhead sun and were denied free access to sufficient feed and drinking water. They were also forced to stand in their own faeces and urine for long periods of time, which makes them prone to foot diseases and other parasitic and infectious diseases.” In yet another recent video that went viral, Kannan, a ‘gentle giant’ in Thrissur (Kerala), was seen being mercilessly tortured and beaten up by his mahout. All this is in clear violation of the orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in 2015, which holds elephant owners criminally liable for such acts of cruelty. What is less known is that these owners who are attempting to boycott the festival if Raman is not released, will earn somewhere between Rs.50,000 to 1.5 lakhs as rent per day, for parading their tuskers.
Let’s forget the ‘follow the rules approach’, for a second. Have you ever looked an elephant in the eye while it is uncomfortably being transported in one of those small trucks? That’s the face of helplessness. Elephants are kind, intelligent and sensitive creatures. They are innocent, and trust easily, much like little children. These majestic creatures need huge amounts of food and adequate rest. Instead, what they get are sharp ankuses and long walks on tarred roads in the blazing summer. Unlike us, they do not have the luxury of sitting in fully air-conditioned rooms all day long. Neither did they ever consent to such treatment. Yet, it is us who fear heat-strokes and complain of the summer heat.
The expert committee that looked into Raman’s case clearly found that he is blind in one eye, and suffers from digestive problems, thus making him more suspicious of his surroundings, and easily provocable.
Unfortunately, just days before the festival, yielding to the pressure from protesters, authorities were forced to permit Raman to participate in the Pooram. A team of doctors even declared Raman to be ‘medically fit’ for the purpose. This incident was just another instance where we shamelessly disregarded animal rights in order to selfishly ‘preserve our rituals and festivals’.
On the 13th of May, people from all across the world came together to witness what is known as one of the biggest cultural spectacles of the country. In the scorching heat, there were loud fireworks, beating drums and blowing trumpets. And amidst the crowd stood our large pachyderm friends - perhaps silent, perhaps enraged; just as they stood in those small trucks. So I ask you this: where has our humanity gone?