Thechikottukavu Ramachandran claimed his 13th victim on Friday, but that does not seem set to diminish his popularity. Mahesh, a fan from Sreekrishnapuram in Palakkad, rushed to see the elephant in Thrissur where it was taken back to its home in Techikottukavu devaswom, a couple of days after the incident and treated it to bananas.
“How can you blame the elephant? It was being paraded in a three-cent plot for a housewarming in Kottapadi. There was little space for the elephant to move, with people who do not know how to behave standing around it. There are rules and checks before vehicles are taken out into a road, yet there are deaths in road accidents. That does not stop people from driving. The rules around how to behave with an elephant should be strictly implemented before the elephant is criticised,” he says, adding Thechikottukavu Ramachandran has already been part of nearly 40 temple programmes this year without causing problems.
He goes on to claim that part of the problem arises from the role played by private elephant owners who deliberately burst crackers and irritate this elephant to spoil its reputation.
His theory is not all that far-fetched, says Sudhakaran Kallathil, Palakkad Sree Uthrathilkavu Devaswom board member. Thechikottukavu Ramachandran, he points out, is a majestic creature and the second tallest in Asia and grabs eyeballs even when it stands among a hundred other elephants, he points out. This does not go down well with private owners, whose elephants do not fetch the same market value.
“Parading elephants is an accepted tradition and a demand of our society,” he says. “When we studied the instances in which this elephant has run amok, we found there was always a disturbance, such as crackers being burst as at this latest incident at the housewarming or it being pushed by another elephant at a programme in Ernakulam a couple of years back. It is only natural that the elephant reacted to this, destroying anything that came in its way, but this is how any elephant would react to a disturbance.”
Animal rights activists would have none of these arguments. They point out that, notwithstanding specific bans, Thechikottukavu Ramachandran has been paraded across the state willy-nilly. “In 2012, the captive Elephant (Management and Maintenance) Rules were formed. While this should be for the welfare of the elephants, this is, in fact, a prop, with plenty of loopholes, for temple festival committees and elephant owners to do as they please. This rule itself is cruelty to elephants. Amendments to the rule, I think are with the Forest Minister, but are yet to be looked into,” says MN Jayachandran, secretary of the Idukki SPCA and member of the State Animal Welfare Board, who had petitioned the High Court against parading this elephant.
According to a High Court order of 2011, there should be two mahouts on either side and one standing behind Thechikottukavu Ramachandran, which is blind in the left eye and partially blind in the right, while parading it. “But reports said that a case had been registered against the two mahouts present in the incident at Kottapadi. It shows how dismissive people are about a High Court order,” says Jayachandran, who notes the elephant earns `3 lakh for a three-hour programme.
While a ban had been imposed on the elephant earlier, it was later reversed and permission for parades was left to the discretion of district monitoring committees. “But despite a ban by the Ernakulam district monitoring committee, it was paraded at two programmes. In fact, action should have been taken against the assistant forest conservator for contempt of court.”
Jayachandran says if Ramachandran, which has killed 13, is still roaming free to do parades, wild elephants who have attacked paddy fields should be let back into the wild, instead to being kept captive at the elephant training centers.
VK Venkitachalam, secretary, the Heritage Animal Task Force, says that while rules stipulate the elephant should not be used for non-traditional programmes, this is not implemented. “The elephant is booked as if it is a film star. If it is booked for a temple festival, it is quickly also taken for smaller programmes in the vicinity with little regard for rules. Everyone from officials to the owners is only concerned about encashing on its popularity.”
He says there should be a total ban on parading elephants, even for temple festivals. “Several temples in Idukki district do not use elephants for parades; instead, they conduct the weddings of girls from poor families. Parading of elephants has become a widespread tradition only since the oil boom in the 1970s; tradition is only dependent on financial status. There are religious heads like Kolathur Chidananda Puri and Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha who preach that elephants should not be used for religious programmes. That will put an end to the cruelty to the animals and to the deaths caused by them”.
Date: 20 Feb 2019