Kerala observed World Environment Day on 5 June 2020 sullenly. The sullenness was caused by the death of a pregnant elephant. I am at a loss whether to use the word ‘death’ or ‘killing’, as I type this. The pachyderm had strayed into an estate located in Ambalapara in Kottopadam Panchayat located in the buffer Zone of the Silent Valley National Park in Kerala’s Malapuram District, close to Manarkkad division of Kerala’s Palakkad district, which shares border with Kerala’s Malapuram district. Thus two districts of Kerala-Malapuram and Palakkad came to be implicated in the tragedy. The area is frequented by wild elephants and boars, causing considerable damage to crops and plantation belonging to local farmers. A practice resorted to, to keep away these ‘intruders from the wilds’ is to stuff fruits with locally assembled explosives.
According to investigating officers the pregnant elephant had chomped on one such explosive-laden coconut on 12 May injuring her lower jaw. The injured animal unable to chew stood on the Velliyar River starving. A forest task force team which spotted the animal and realizing it was injured tried to rescue her using domesticated elephants. The attempt however failed.
On the evening of 27 May the injured and starving animal collapsed into the river and died, setting off widespread protests from animal lovers across Kerala and the nation. The center demanded a report from the state. Local MP Rahul Gandhi of the Congress was ‘pained’ by the left-Front led Kerala Government’s insensitivity to cruelty towards animals. The estate was owned by a Muslim. And the incident occurred near Muslim-dominated Malapuram District- a perfect setting for politicians to dabble in. Only as they can. Former Union Minister with the BJP government Maneka Gandhi minced no words when she audaciously aired her views. She harped that the unfortunate incident happened in Muslim-dominated Malapuram, which she termed the ‘most violence-prone district in the country’ sullying the already sordid incident with communal overtones. The fact indeed is that Sultanpur, which Maneka Gandhi represents electorally, is much worse in terms of crime, according to NCRB data of 2018. How did Malapuram come to be implicated in the incident? It happened because (1) Malapuram shares border with Palakkad, where the incident actually occurred. (2) Mohan Krishnan, of the Rapid Response team from Malapuram posted this news in Face book. Politicians in North India mistook the incident to have occurred in Malapuram- a convenient faux pas, that suited their designs which events that later unfolded proved!
The politicians got what they wanted- an elephant, an animal revered and even worshipped by Hindus, for its semblance to Lord Ganesha which was injured by chewing on an explosive-filled coconut placed in an estate owned by a Muslim near Muslim-dominated Malapuram district deliberately to fend off rogue, destructive animals which inflict substantial financial loss on farmers. Farmers have numerous other odds like inclement weather, and bullying by middlemen to contend with. To add to the tragedy of the incident, the animal was pregnant. It was a dark, deliberate and cunning act by Maneka meant to drum up mischief and bad taste- the favorite pastime of her rightwing political masters. Attempts by right-wing NDA Government in the centre captained by a former Union Minister to communalize the incident was rejected by the left-ruled Kerala state government. The hue and cry made by animal lovers and politicians led to the arrest of the farmer who had physically placed the killer fruit. Arrests of the estate owner and his son are imminent anytime.
The killing or, death of a pregnant pachyderm that had the typical vile politician shed crocodile tears lays open pertinent points:
- The audacity with which politicians sculpt these unfortunate incidents to their advantage. They spared no second thoughts to capitalize on the elephant’s death, and churn trouble of the most heinous kind by drumming up communal passions over it.
- Why do wild animals leave their natural habitat to foray into human habitat to damage the latter? Is it because man intrudes into the wilds, corrupting natural habitat of animals on the pretext of farming, constructing resorts, hotels and check-dams, to indulge in deforestation and quarrying? Will this incident have man stay away from the wilds? To leave habitants of the deep wilds alone? Or, is it because a shrinking natural habitat has its natural habitants foray into human settlements, to destroy life and property?
- Before politicians and so-called animal lovers pick up stones to target the supposed ‘miscreants’ who caused the animal’s death, they, especially politicians, along with custodians of law must realize that they ought to be equally concerned about fellow human beings- fellow Indians who are murdered, looted, raped and made to suffer domestic and dowry-related violence almost daily. Why aren’t they concerned about those innumerable migrants and manual laborers who had to trudge many a mile under a merciless sun to reach home during the COVID19-related lockdown? Politicians are, for some strange reason more concerned about cruelty towards animals, the list of which is fast expanding from the cow to the stray dog!
Before more fuss and much ado is made over the issue, the powers-that-be must exhibit more sensitivity and sensibility for the common man on Indian streets, who beg for far more concern for his, or her welfare. Beg for At-least a fraction of concern and ‘genuine love’ and outrage expressed when wild elephants that add to the farmers’ woes during attempts to fend them away are killed. When the caricaturesque emaciated and perfect model for veterinary students to study osteology (the branch of medicine that deals with bones), to release them from their ordeal are traded. When the stray dog that attack to kill, maim and cause rabies are harmed.
- Ways and means to limit man-animal standoff that are offshoot of violation of mutual habitat and environment ought to be promulgated and enacted.