I came across the news report of this award winning photograph today and it pained me immensely to see that conflict between these gentle giants and humans continue in India. Just look at the little calf being burnt, clearly he is shouting. How can one’s heart not cry? We adore the elephant to such an extent that we worship them, heck, one of our beloved Gods has an elephant head and yet these values don’t seem to come forth when survival with the pachyderms is in question.
To just understand the values of elephants in our society, we shall have to look back at our rich heritage. The elephant has always been revered for its superior intelligence and memory. It is no wonder then, that in our culture, the king of Gods, Indra rides the divine Airavata, a white, majestic elephant. Our Goddesses are referred to as having gaits as majestic as “Mada Gaja” meaning elephants in rut. There are tales of elephant kings such as Gajendra acquiring immortality – the greatest possible feat for a human. Whether they all are facts or allegorical, these stories are ingrained in us from childhood to also teach us the importance of animals in our ecosystem and yet it is commonplace to see animal brutality in this very land that has been the birthplace of such evocative tales.
The elephant has traditionally been part of temple processions in Kerala’s temples so much so that the elephant is part of the official symbol of the Kerala government. They are often considered as direct vehicles of the Gods. There are beautiful stories on the deep relations between the mahouts and these giants – it is said that is is the oldest man-animal relation; in fact some of them are treated royally, but occasionally, I come across articles that shatters my belief in such stories: Elephants in India’s temples
I am overwhelmed when I see these animals and it is not uncommon to see them randomly on a street in India but it is even better when I see them in the wild. They seem to be enjoying a sense of freedom without even realizing it. I feel for the people too, I am sure they have their reasons. Elephants can get ticked quite easily and can go on a rampage destroying homes, crops and people. Some of the poor folk obviously have their lives changed in a matter of a few minutes but nothing justifies brutality on a creature that doesn’t have an inkling as to what it is doing. Elephants being killed by electrocution, by a speeding train are just adding to the woes of how man is threatening this endangered species even more.
Thankfully, the calf in the first picture apparently survived but quite injured; but more is needed to prevent disruption of elephant movements in the wild and to prevent further encroachments of man into the forests where these gentle giants dwell. I hope there is more awareness with this photograph and with more people talking about it.