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Apeksha Bagchi

IWB Blogger

Elephants Are Doomed In Captivity And The Wild: Activist Sangita Iyer

  • IWB Post
  •  April 29, 2019


“Why are there shackles on the elephant’s legs if I don’t have them?” young Sangita Iyer used to ask her grandmother this question whenever she would see a bull elephant domesticated by temple authorities in Palakkad, Kerala.

It was her childhood around elephants that set her on the path of elephant conservation as she grew older. A journalist today, she directs films, drafts supreme court petitions, and also runs a charitable trust named ‘Voice For Asian Elephants Society’ (VFAES), which fights for the rights of elephants in India.

“In June 2013 I ended up in the Wayanad district in Kerala where I witnessed a wild elephant being rescued. The majestic animal with enormous tusks had fallen into a trench. It was extremely emotional and deeply gratifying to witness the way people were working hard to rescue the hapless animal,” said Sangita.

“Fast forward to December 2013, and a chain of events that took me to the temples of Kerala where I was absolutely devastated and utterly shocked by what I saw. Several elephants had been blinded, many had raw bleeding wounds on their ankles, the heavy chains cutting into their flesh, and almost all of them had enormous tumours on their hips. Despite such physical disabilities they were being forced to parade beneath the scorching sun, deprived of a proper home, food, and water,” she added.

A trained journalist and videographer, she started filming the terrible condition of the elephants and compiled it all into a documentary Gods in Shackles, showing how the elephants were being caged, beaten, starved and tortured to follow man’s instructions

“The documentary was screened at the United Nations’ General Assembly on the inaugural World Wildlife Day in March 2016 and has won over a dozen international film festival awards, including two best documentaries of the year in 2017. It was also screened at the prestigious International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa,” she shared.

The Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre in Bengaluru used shots from the film to file a petition in the Supreme Court in August 2014 to ensure the protection of elephants in captivity.

“Between November and May (2013), there [were] more than 3000 festivals conducted in Kerala, most of them exploiting India’s heritage animal, the endangered Asian elephants, as deemed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). These majestic animals are reduced to slaves, and rushed from one festival to another, standing on hot iron planks behind the truck, paraded beneath the scorching sun and deprived of food and water,” said the petition.

“Furthermore, as asserted by many climate scientists, human activities are exacerbating climate change, leading to further decimation of the wild habitat through floods and other weather-related events, leaving no place for the wildlife. Elephants are doomed in captivity and the wild. They have been kicked out of their own homes. This is the tragic reality of our precious heritage animal!” said Sangita.

“Old habits die hard, and it is tough to change the cultural attitudes that have seeped into people’s minds for over centuries. When I began to speak out against the exploitation of elephants in festivals, the festival mafias began to call me an enemy of culture and sent harassing emails to intimidate me,” she added. “It seems like my fate was decided when I was three years old. Decades later, here I am, trying to unshackle the shackles that confine these majestic animals. And I am eternally grateful for my grandparents who fostered my special bond with elephants. They deserve a fighting chance, and I am determined to be their voice until my last breath.”

H/T: The Better India 

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