9 – Temples, Elephants and Traditions – B. R. Haran

Supreme Court of India

B.R. HaranSubsequent to the SC’s order, the Kerala government started registration of captive elephants in the state. In the process, it found that many persons owned elephants illegally. The elephant owners association pressurized the government to legalise such ownerships and give ownership certificates and licenses. … The SC on 4 May stayed the Kerala government’s order and cancelled the licenses issued to the owners based on that order and ordered the elephant owners association not to shift the elephants to other states. – B. R. Haran

PETA IndiaPetition before the Supreme Court

Animal welfare organizations have been fighting their level best to free the captive elephants from captivity. These organizations have been waging legal battles in courts of law in various States for the welfare of captive elephants. Hearings in a few cases are going on in the High Courts of Chennai and Kerala. Organizations like People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Centre (WRRC) are playing a significant role and the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) is also jointly working with them for the same cause.

Animal Welfare Board of IndiaWRRC filed a Writ Petition (Writ Petition(s) (Civil) No(s). 743/2014) before the Supreme Court in 2014, seeking appropriate orders to effectively implement the provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, and various government directives to protect elephants held in captivity in different parts of the country.  

Excerpts from the Petition 

In its Writ Petition, WRRC has placed the following significant facts: 

• This petition brings to the fore the ground-level situation in different States where captive elephants are being victimized in blatant violation of the existing provisions for their health, care and proper upkeep. The current state of the health, welfare, safety and upkeep of a majority of captive elephants in the custody of private ownership is abysmally poor.  

• As a keystone species of the tropical forests, the elephant has been accorded the highest level of protection in Indian law as it is placed in Schedule I Part I of the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972. Elephant is an important part of Indian culture and heritage and is revered by a significant part of the population. The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India recognizing the same, vide Notification dated 21 October 2010, declared the elephant as National Heritage Animal of India. Unfortunately, such a recognition has not contributed in any manner whatsoever to the welfare of elephants.

• Though there are several important issues relating to the protection of the Indian elephant in the wild, the instant petition raises concerns relating specifically to elephants held in captivity, in the custody of private individuals, temples, trusts, societies, religious and other institutions and seeks appropriate orders and directions with regard to the same.

• The four main concerns which require urgent attention of the Hon’ble Court are: firstly, the cruel treatment suffered by elephants in captivity that is in violation of constitutional and statutory provisions; secondly, the illegal sale and transfer of elephants under the guise of gift or donation; thirdly, the illegal use of elephants in commercial and/or religious activities; and fourth, the poor conditions of housing and upkeep that elephants are subjected to.

• Due to the torture and ill-treatment meted out by owners and mahouts, several instances of death and severe injuries to captive elephants are reported across the country every year. Moreover, elephants held in captivity are known to turn violent under mental and physical stress leading to panic and stampede in public areas, often causing loss of life of mahouts and by-standers and damage to property. Various studies show that the violent behavior of elephants is attributable to poor living conditions and subjecting them to various forms of torture, including beating with a belt trap, making them walk over hot tarred roads and keeping them chained, often for the entire day. Under the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, the kind of abuse suffered by captive elephants amounts to the offence of cruelty.

• According to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, in 2000, there were estimated to be 3400-3600 elephants in captivity in the country. Captive elephants are found with private individuals, in temples and other religious institutions, zoos, circuses, forest camps, tourist spots etc.

• Despite numerous provisions in Indian law which promote the well-being of captive elephants, the situation on the ground with regard to the treatment being meted out to the captive elephants is dismal. In addition, Hon’ble High Courts of various states have also passed orders and given directions on issues relating to the management and safekeeping of these elephants. Therefore, there exists a large body of laws, rules and orders protecting elephants in captivity. Yet there is ample proof that these laws are blatantly disregarded causing a great deal of hardship to the elephants as well as society in general as accidents involving captive elephants often lead to loss of lives and damage to livelihoods and property.

• As the Indian Elephant (Elephas maximus) is a Schedule I species under the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972, transfer, acquisition, transport etc. of captive elephants is governed by the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972. Captive elephants are also protected by the provisions of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960. The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, has also issued Guidelines for Care and Management of Captive Elephants in 2008. However, the implementation of the law and orders relating to captive elephants has been extremely poor.

• Despite a mandatory requirement under the Declaration of Wildlife Stock Rules 2003, many individuals and institutions have not declared the captive elephants in their custody to the concerned Chief Wildlife Warden of the State or obtained Ownership Certificates under Section 42 of the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972.

• The Task Force, constituted by Ministry of Environment and Forests, made several recommendations in this regard including the need to amend the provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972 to ensure better protection of captive elephants. It has been recommended that there should be a prohibition on the use of elephants in ‘exhibitions, circuses, weddings, unregulated tourism, public functions, begging or for other entertainment’. An emphasis has also been laid on improving the upkeep, maintenance and housing of captive elephants.

• There exists a constitutional imperative in accordance with Article 14, Article 21, Article 48A and 51A(g) of the Constitution of India to protect these elephants held in captivity, as there is towards other wild animals, as well as to prevent accidents that could endanger the lives of people.  

WRRC in its petition has prayed to the Supreme Court to direct the concerned Government agencies to take urgent measures to ensure the protection and welfare of the elephants. 

Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre BangaloreAt the Supreme Court so far

WRRC’s writ petition came up for hearing in the Supreme Court on 18 August 2015. Other animal welfare organizations also submitted their impleading petitions in the case. The Kerala government submitted a petition. Accepting Kerala’s petition, the SC Bench comprising Justice Deepak Misra and Justice Baumathi ordered as follows and dismissed it.

As per Indian Wildlife Act 1972, as submitted by the learned counsel of Kerala government under Section 21 or 22 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, as pointed out by the learned Solicitor General of India under Section 42 of the 1972 Act, and also based on the Kerala Captive Elephants (Management and Maintenance) Rules, 2012, the SC gave the following orders:

As far as the present issue is concerned, we are inclined to direct that the Chief Wild Life Warden shall see to it that all captive elephants in the State of Kerala are counted and in the absence of obtainment of requisite certificate under Section 42 of the 1972 Act and the declaration made under Section 40, appropriate action shall be initiated against the owners.

Every owner shall maintain an Elephant Data Book as specified by the Chief Wildlife Warden for each captive elephant. Transport norms for elephants must also be followed as specified in Rule 9. The said Rules shall be religiously followed by the owners failing which the authorities shall take appropriate action against them.

A District Committee constituted as per the 2012 rules to deal with the cases of cruelty meted out to captive elephants must have a member of AWBI (from January 2015) in addition to the members as per the 2012 rules.

The District Committee shall take necessary measures, to ensure that the Festival Committee constituted for the smooth conduct of festivals or the persons organizing such functions in which elephants are exposed, shall adhere to the following:

• There shall be sufficient space between elephants used in processions and parades.

• No elephants in musth shall be used in connection with festivals.

• Elephant which is sick, injured, weak or pregnant shall not be used.

• Chains and hobbles with spikes or barbs shall not be used for tethering elephants.

• Elephants shall not be made to walk on tarred roads during hot sun for a long duration without rest.

• Making an elephant stand in scorching sun for long duration or bursting crackers near the elephants for ceremonial purpose shall not be permitted.

• It shall be ensured that sufficient food and water for the elephants are provided.

• The Committee shall ensure that the flambeaus (theevetry) are held away from elephants. There shall be facility to keep elephants under shade during hot sun.

• It shall be ensured that adequate protection to the elephants taking part in celebrations through volunteers provided for the purpose.

• Services of veterinary doctor from the elephant squads shall be ensured in cases where five or more elephants are engaged in the festivals.

• The nearest Forest Range Officer / Police Officers shall be informed about the proposed festival / celebrations at least 72 hours in advance.

• During the procession the elephants shall have chains (idachangala and malachangala) tied to their leg.

• It shall be ensured that the mahouts are not intoxicated while handling elephants.

• The weaned calf below 1.5 m. height shall not be engaged for festival purposes.

• Sufficient rest has to be given to elephants which are engaged for “para procession”. Para procession shall be restricted to 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. only.

• During night-time, generators shall be provided to avoid any contingency due to failure of general power supply.

• It shall be ensured that elephants are brought under public liability insurance scheme for an amount of Rs. 3.00 lakhs per elephant.

On a perusal of the aforesaid Rules, it is clear as crystal that it obliges the District Committee to take necessary measures to ensure that the festival committee constituted for smooth conduct of the festivals or the persons organizing such functions in which elephants are exposed are required to adhere to many a measure. The District Committee is bound by the Rules and must see to it that the festival committees follow the same.

Temples or the devaswoms shall get themselves registered with the district committee within a period of six weeks from today. The temple and devaswom shall, apart from other formalities, also mention how many elephants will be used in any festival. It will be the obligation of the State to see that the registration is carried out. It shall be the duty of the State, the District Committee, Management of the Devaswom, Management of the Temple and the owners of the elephants to see that no elephant is subject to any kind of cruelty and, if it is found, apart from lodging of criminal prosecution, they shall face severe consequences which may include confiscation of the elephants to the State.

Gauri MaulekhiWith the above orders the SC disposed off the Intervening Applications and listed the writ petition after eight weeks. (Reference) 

Supreme Court stays Kerala government’s amnesty scheme 

Subsequent to the SC’s order, the Kerala government started registration of captive elephants in the state. In the process, it found that many persons owned elephants illegally. The elephant owners association pressurized the government to legalise such ownerships and give ownership certificates and licenses. Yielding to the pressure, the Kerala government issued a notification dated February 26, 2016, which offered amnesty period for the owners of 289 captive elephants without valid ownership certificates. 

The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (India) sent a legal notice to the Kerala government seeking withdrawal of the above order, warning that the scheme would be a mockery of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, which prohibits illegal capture, trade, and custody of wild animals such as elephants, as well as the purpose of the interim order of the Supreme Court of India dated August 18, 2015.

As the Kerala government did not reply to the notice, PETA and WRRC approached the SC. PFA (People For Animals) also submitted an intervening petition through its representative Ghauri Maulekhi. Accepting the petitions, the SC issued notice to the Kerala government to reply by 27 April 2016. Then, after hearing arguments, the SC on 4 May stayed the Kerala government’s order and cancelled the licenses issued to the owners based on that order and ordered the elephant owners association not to shift the elephants to other states. (Reference)

Meanwhile, WRRC added a video clipping comprising a few scenes from Sangita Iyer’s documentary Gods in Shackles by means of a CD material to its petition and submitted it to Supreme Court. The case, which came up for hearing on 21 September, has been adjourned.

» B. R. Haran is and independent senior journalist in Chennai. This series of articles will be continued.

Elephants at Guruvayur Temple

Between Moolah and the Mullah – Tufail Ahmad

Saudi banker displays the new one hundred riyal note

Tufail AhmadMuslim community leaders of Kerala know only too well about this rapid radicalisation among the youth, but many of them are in denial. – Tufail Ahmad

The hammer-and-sickle is giving way to the crescent of Islamism in Kerala. This is evident in the headlines, and sometimes between the lines of reports that portend grave dangers for the state, perhaps even the whole country. On 13 September, news surfaced that a baby girl was born to Rifaila, who with her husband Ijaz and son and some two dozen other Keralites had left home to join the ISIS more than a year ago. The baby was born in war-torn Syria—a child of jihad, apparently—far from her parents’ house in Kasargode, north Malabar.

On the same day, it emerged that several of these Malayalees were indoctrinated in jihad by a UK-based couple. Though details are yet to be disclosed, it was Yasmin Ahmad who spilled the beans to Indian intelligence agencies on being questioned following her detention at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport. Ahmad is the second wife of Abdul Rashid, who had worked at Peace International School at A handout picture released by the King Faisal Foundation on March 1, 2015 shows Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz (L) presenting Zakir Naik, president of the Islamic Research Foundation in India, with the 2015 King Faisal International Prize for Service to Islam in Riyadh. Naik was honoured for being one of the most renowned non-Arabic speaking promoters of Islam. He founded the Peace TV channel, billed as the world's only channel specialising in comparative religion. Malappuram, run by radical televangelist Zakir Naik’s NGO, Islamic Research Foundation. Rashid, along with his first wife and child, is believed to be in Afghanistan.

Muslim community leaders of Kerala know only too well about this rapid radicalisation among the youth, but many of them are in denial.

On 12 September, Ismail Kangarappady, a prayer leader, told a gathering in Kochi, “One cannot even regard the ISIS as an Islamic terrorist outfit. The ideals they propagate have nothing to do with real Islam.” Sharif Melethil, an imam, told worshippers, “Seeking a mysterious paradise is not jihad.”

In Islam, there are two spiritual quests for paradise: one motivates the faithful to live for life after death, while the other often leads Muslims to migrate from non-Muslim lands to Dar-ul-Islam (‘House of Peace’), seen as countries under Islamic rule. During the Hijrat Movement, an offshoot of the 1920s’ Khilafat Movement, Indian Islamic scholars like Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, Maulana Abdul Bari, Maulana Muhammad Ali and Maulana Abdul Majeed Sindhi issued a fatwa (decree) declaring that migration to Dar-ul-Islam from Dar-ul-Harb (‘House of War’) was desirable. As a result, a number of Indian Muslims migrated to Afghanistan, though they found themselves unwelcome there. In recent years, some Muslims of Kerala have been going to Yemen, and also to Sri Lanka, where operatives trained in Yemen have established camps.

“I don’t believe the missing youths from Kerala went to join the Islamic State,” Mujib Rahman, a teacher based in Kozhikode, had said in an interview back in July, when it wasn’t clear where the youths had gone. His hunch was that they had gone to Yemen, rather than Syria to fight alongside ISIS.

Rahman is a former president of the Ithihadu Shubbanil Mujahideen, the student wing of Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen (KNM), a Salafist outfit that describes itself as an islaahi (reformist) group with roots in Abul A'la MaududiEgyptian and Saudi religious movements of the late-19th and 20th centuries. Bear in mind, however, that Islamic groups such as the Tablighi Jamaat, Jamaat-e-Islami, ISIS, Taliban and Al-Qaeda all call themselves “reformist” and consider their faith “purer” than that of others.

The KNM has split and reunited many times under the influence of Saudi Arabia-educated members who tend to return with a doctrinal version of Islam that’s at odds with what the group has traditionally preached. While the so-called moderate faction of the KNM has focused on such reforms (in their view) as allowing women into mosques and having the Friday khutba (sermon) in Malayalam, radicalised Saudi returnees have been propagating a kind of Islamic globalism that (among other measures) insists on Arabic for the khutba.

Krishnendhu R. Nath is an NRI based in Malaysia. On 14 June, the eighth day of Ramazan, she was travelling through Kerala’s Muslim-dominated Malappuram district. She felt sick and needed some lime soda. Her husband’s friend went looking from shop to shop along the highway, but was told that since it was the Muslim month of fasting, no refreshment could be sold. Startled by this, she herself went over to confront a shopkeeper. “What is the problem with selling nimbu pani during fasting season? What will travellers like us who have no fasting do?’” According to her Facebook post, the answer she got was: “It is not that we don’t like to. But our shops will be destroyed if we do that.” She got the same response at another shop. “Is this Saudi Arabia?” she exclaimed.

Non-Muslims are aghast at this aggressive display of religious identity in places that have a large Islamic presence. “The Hindu community in Malappuram is now far subdued, far outnumbered by Muslims,” says Vivek Vibha, an architect based in Kochi, observing that assertions of Muslim identity often go with indoctrination and intolerance. Hardliners then tend to gain an upper hand, many of whom manage to foist their thoughts on others and insist on old-fashioned codes of conduct. Ansiba Hassan, a Muslim actor from Kerala, faced abuse from Islamist trolls after she posed for a photograph with Buddhist monks. She was forced to remove the photograph from her Facebook page. Another female actor, Nazriya Nazim, was targeted for not wearing a hijab offscreen. Asif Ali, an actor, was abused for posting a picture from a UK cricket stadium with the caption, ‘The Mecca of Cricket—Lords.’

Professor Kausik Gangopadhyay, who teaches at Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, notes a suddenness to the new religiosity of Muslims in Kerala. “When I moved to Kozhikode in June 2009, this was a far more open city. No shops will close in Ramazan, except for about half-an-hour at iftaar (sundown break of fast),” he says. “Now even the spelling of Ramazan has changed to ‘Ramadan’, the Arabic version. Saudi Arabia has more influence here. It’s a new influence.” Adds Vibha, “The new rise in Islamism in Kerala is due to money from the Middle East.”

The police confirm large inflows of funds from West Asia into Kerala, some of it illegal. Gold, for example, is smuggled in. Notes M. G. S. Narayanan, a renowned historian, “Money is being pumped in to Kerala. Elected governments always knew it, but did nothing about it.” Sajad Ibrahim, an associate professor of Political Science at University of Kerala, explains the phenomenon. “Don’t be under the impression that only Muslims are bringing money from Gulf countries. Christians from Kerala are working as professionals in the Gulf and get lots of money, followed by Hindus, but Muslims working there are in large numbers,” he says. “All NGOs of Muslims in northern Kerala are rich and powerful. Charitable organisations have links with political parties and exercise influence and power over them,” he adds. The situation in Kerala is unstable, he says, as the Popular Front of India (PFI) have been taking control of mosques and the acts of some Muslims under its sway have caused disharmony between Hindus and Muslims.

Tipu SultanOn 8 July, Muslims arriving for namaaz at Nadakkar, in the heart of Kozhikode, made a blatant show of defying civic rules by parking their bikes in the middle of the road in front of a police station opposite the mosque. The police say they were helpless. Some of the tensions date back centuries. The first recorded conflicts involving Muslims in Kerala go back to the time of Vasco da Gama, whose landing near Kozhikode in 1498 CE some believe brought elements of Europe’s Islam-versus-Christianity dynamics to India. However, it was attacks on Malabar in 1771 and 1789 by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan that were turning points for Islamist fervour in the region.“Hyder Ali plundered Hindu temples because there was gold there,” says Narayanan, “This was the beginning of the divide between Hindus and Muslims. And Tipu Sultan’s attacks later worsened this divide, as he gave lands seized from Hindus to new lower-caste converts to Islam.”

Ali Musliyar was a principal leader of the Moplah RebellionAbout a century and a half later, the 1921 Malabar Rebellion of Muslims against the British and Hindus marked Kerala’s lowest point in inter-community relations. Some Kerala historians and Congress politicians of the time have presented it as an agrarian conflict, but the uprising had a religious dimension, one factor being the British efforts to rehabilitate Hindus displaced from their lands in Malabar, which provoked the wrath of Moppila Muslims. A large number of Kerala’s Muslims also supported the Khilafat Movement at the time, points out Narayanan.

In 1992, the Ayodhya issue played a critical role in the further radicalisation of Muslims in a state where they have been financially, socially and even politically better off than those in other parts of India.

As a party, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) wielded considerable clout in Kerala’s previous Congress-led coalition government. Abdul Rabb, an IUML minister, even took the liberty of parading his religious identity and power by renaming Ganga, the bungalow allotted to him, as Grace. The IUML flaunts a secular outlook, but various Islamic organisations thrive under its aegis. Last Ramazan, state-provided mid-day meals for students were stopped in the schools of Kozhikode and Malappuram after some Islamic clerics issued a fatwa against them, but IUML leaders could not oppose them, says Kochi-based lawyer Jaysankar.

Focus in Kozhikode is one of several shopping malls in the state that has prayer rooms for Muslims—separate ones for men and women—but none for Hindus and Christians. This encroachment of Kerala’s secular spaces causes unease among Hindus. A. Vinod, a school teacher in Malappuram, notes that earlier homes had names in Malayalam, but Muslim houses now have them in Arabic. Muslims offering prayers in government offices is also common. “Some places should be secular spaces,” he says, adding that there is no such overt religiosity in areas of Christian influence like Tiruchur and Kottayam. In Western countries, airports have multi-faith prayer rooms but not special ones for Muslims.

In Kerala, the expressions “Sunni Muslim” and “Mujahid Muslim” are heard often. Both belong to the Sunni sect of Islam but “Sunni” here refers to a moderate Muslim, perhaps a peasant, with no hostility to non-Muslims and their lifestyles and religious practices. A “Mujahid”, however, means an unarmed radicalised Muslim who advocates piety, detests local rituals and ways of life, and actively opposes them when possible. At Narikunni, 20 km from Kozhikode, Naveen P. K. had opened a Patanjali ayurvedic shop, but posters for the brand’s products were removed by neo-Mujahid Muslims. Fewer Muslims now come to his shop, he says, adding that even Mujahids secretly send their servants to pick up ayurvedic medicines.

Mujahid Muslims represent what would be known internationally as the Wahhabi-Salafist version of Islam, which Jaysankar says has existed at the level of ideas in Kerala since the 1920s. Mujahids preach a puritan version of Islam and oppose Sufi practices at shrines. These are views held increasingly by the KNM as well, and it is from this corpus of ideas that grew the National Development Front (NDF), a radical Islamist group now known as PFI, which has roots in the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), a banned militant group that broke away from the Jamaat-e-Islami.

Abdul Nazer MahdaniAbdul Nasser Madani is a leader whose name figures in the radicalisation of Muslims. He spent jail terms in the cases of the Coimbatore blasts of 1998 and the Bangalore blasts of 2008. P. Unnikrishnan, a former Vigilance Department officer, says that after the demolition of the Babri mosque on 6 December 1992, Muslim zeal was stoked by fiery speeches made by Madani. “In 1999, we arrested some youths for radical activities who confessed that they were attending evening classes led by disciples of Madani,” he says, adding that it was through him that the Tamil Nadu-based group Al Ummah had links with the NDF, which was once the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which he had launched. Unnikrishnan argues that young men and women joining ISIS is an outcome of Islamist fervour in Kerala. He had arrested Ayub Ilyas Sabir for radical activities, he says, but he was granted bail and escaped to Pakistan. At least four infiltrators killed trying to enter Kashmir from across the LoC have turned out to be of Keralite origin. N. P. Balakrishnan, a former police officer, says that there were many arson attacks in the 1990s on cinemas in Malappuram that were the result of incendiary speeches delivered by Madani against the RSS. Over the years, the PDP was transformed into the NDF, and after assimilating other outfits, into the PFI as it is today—the spearhead of radical activism in Kerala and beyond.

There are also conflicts among Muslims in Kerala which reflect the sectarian schisms found in Islam elsewhere in India and abroad. Sayeed Muhammad, author of many books on Islam, says that both Sunnis and Mujahids—in the Kerala terminology—do not consider Ahmadis and Shias as Muslim. In Kerala society, while there are tombs of Muslim mystics, there is no Sufi movement to counter the radicalisation of Muslims, but some Sufi practices are found among Sunnis. While there might not be formal organisations representing Barelvis, Wahhabis and Ahl-e-Hadeesis (another extreme group), their radical ideas filter through to Malayalee Muslims in general. In this context, the gruesome murder in 1993 of Islamic cleric P. K. Muhammad Abdul Hasan Baqavi aka Maulvi Chekannur—whose body was never found—is an important marker on the state’s timeline of Islamist radicalisation. The maulvi had written a book arguing that everyone, including non-Muslims, could go to heaven by the dint of their good deeds, not faith per se. Salim Haji, an uncle of Maulvi Chekannur and president of the Koran Sunnat Society (KSS), which observes his 29 July death anniversary as anti-terrorism day, says that the cleric’s liberal views provoked orthodox groups which felt that he was against the hadiths, the collected sayings of Prophet Muhammad.

An RSS worker based in Thiruvananthapuram, who asks not to be named, rejects the idea that Hindus should worry about Muslim radicalisation. However, he says, “Although there are no cases of open violence, T. J. Josephthere is apprehension among Hindus…. This means that Muslims become followers of political Islam, [arguing for] the necessity of establishing an Islamic state. They are no longer nationalistic. They create hate against the pagan culture of Hindus,” says the RSS worker, “Radicalisation weans away Muslim youngsters from local society. They are taught to be part of only Muslim society. This introduces puritanical elements and they declare local festivals ‘unIslamic'”.

A move to have a sculpture of Tunjethu Ezhuthachan, an eminent figure of Malayalam literature, installed at his birthplace Tirur had to be abandoned because the local municipality opposed it under Muslim pressure. A plan by the Kerala government in 2012 to install a statue of the legendary Muslim actor Prem Nazir, who has a Guinness Book record for acting in over 700 movies, was also opposed by the Kerala Muslim Jamaah Council on religious grounds. On the campus of Cochin University of Science and Technology, the breasts of a plant figurine had to be pruned over similar protests. Even a bust of Mahatma Gandhi could not be put up in the nearby Union Territory of Lakshadweep, which is about three hours from Kochi, due to opposition from Muslims who are in a majority there.

In 2010, when Professor T. J. Joseph’s hand was chopped off—for the alleged blasphemy of Prophet Muhammad in an exam paper he had set—by goons of the PFI, Christian groups and the Left did not stand up in his support. M. G. Radhakrishnan, editor of Asianet News TV, says the Church and the Left were afraid that showing solidarity with Joseph could antagonise Muslims and worsen Christian-Muslim tensions.

The spiralling influence of moolah and the mullah can’t be missed along the Arabian Sea. – Open Magazine, 29 September 2016

» Tufail Ahmad was as Director of South Asian Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington, D.C. He is now described as a Contributing Editor at Firstpost and Executive Director of the Open Source Institute, New Delhi.

Saudi-funded Koran study in a madrasa

See also

7 – Temples, Elephants and Traditions – B.R. Haran

Elephants at Guruvayur Temple

B.R. HaranWhile animal rights activists and animal welfare organizations are demanding the removal of elephants from temples as they are not well maintained and subjected to utmost cruelty, a section of devotees, traditionalists and temple devaswoms opine that removal of elephants from temples is against tradition, as elephants are used in various temple rituals. They allege that temples and temple traditions are undermined and demeaned in the name of elephant welfare, and point to a recent article and documentary as evidence. 

Liz JonesSangita IyerThe journalists

Liz Jones, a British journalist, wrote a lengthy article titled, “Tortured for Tourists: Chained to the same spot for 20 years. Beaten into submission at secret jungle training camps. The terrible plight of Indian Elephants,” for UK’s Daily Mail (15 August 2015).

Sangita IyerDuncan McNair, a Canadian citizen and native of Kerala, who is also a journalist and documentary maker, released a documentary titled, “Gods in Shackles”. When she came to Kerala for the death anniversary of her father in 2013, she had visited a few temples and seen the sufferings of elephants in captivity, resulting in this film.

The article and its effect

Liz Jones says she was with Duncan McNair, the London lawyer who founded the non-government organization Save The Asian Elephants (STAE) in January 2015.  She visited Kerala (Guruvayur Sri Krishna Temple) and Karnataka (a ‘secret’ camp), saw the pathetic plight of captive elephants and interviewed concerned people. Her findings include:

  • Elephants are chained to tree stumps and beaten with metal sticks at temples in Kerala.
  • Before arriving at the temples, they are forced to spend months at ‘secret’ training camps where they are tortured. There are 12 such secret camps in Kerala.
  • At the entrance to the temple is Devi, who has been chained to this spot for 35 years. As a female, she is never taken to festivals, so has never, ever moved. Not one inch. Temple leaders (politicians, businessmen) refuse to allow the animals to be walked for one hour a day.
  • From October to May, an elephant will take part in 100 to 150 festivals. They will travel 3,720 miles in three months on a flat-bed truck. They are surrounded by thousands of people, noise, firecrackers.
  • They are routinely temporarily blinded, to make them wholly dependent on the mahout.
  • If in musth (when males are ready to mate), they are given injections to suppress the hormones. Three elephants died due to this practice this year.
  • The only food given here is dry palm leaves. An elephant in the wild will eat a wide variety of grasses, fruit, leaves and vegetables, and drink 140 to 200 litres of water a day. Here, they are lucky if they get five to ten.
  • Elephants are now big business. Each is worth £80,000, and can earn anything up to £5,000 an hour for appearing at festivals and weddings.
  • I asked Indian families at the Guruvayur Temple what they thought of the elephants. While some said it was sad, most thought the animals were fine. They had each paid to enter the temple, while Hindus from all over the world donate money.
  • Later that day, I meet theologian and elephant expert Venkita Chalam, a man who has received death threats for his views. We discuss whether condemning the way the animals are kept will be perceived as attacking Hinduism (as so many have told me since I arrived in Kerala). He shakes his head. “It is the opposite of Hinduism. There were no elephants at that temple before 1969, which is when Hindu families, experiencing hard times due to land reforms, donated their elephants because they could no longer care for them,” he says. “With the oil boom in the 1970s, when lots of Indians became rich, donating a ‘sacred’ elephant became a status symbol. And using elephants in festivals only started in the mid-1970s. This is not ancient, this is new.”
  • We have to release the 57 elephants in that temple, and close down the secretive ‘training’ camps: 12 in all. Wildlife SOS has told me it can take them. We have to release them.

After this article appeared, many Indian newspapers and magazines came out with columns, stories and articles referring this article of Liz Jones and quoting her verbatim. Some websites republished her article.

Prem PanickerRefutations

Three reputed persons refuted the contents of Liz Jones’s article. Prem Panicker, editor of the portal Peepli.org published his article on 18 August 2015 three days after the publication of Liz Jones’s article in Daily Mail. In “Temple Elephants… And What Lies Beneath”, Panicker refuted the allegations made by Liz Jones, as follows: 

Jones: At the entrance to the temple is Devi. She has been chained to this spot for 35 years….

Panicker: This is just so sad. No, it is beyond sad—it is horrific. It is inhuman. And the fact that this scene plays out at the entrance to Guruvayur, one of India’s richest, most famous temples, multiplies the horror manifold. Or it would if the passage from an article by Liz Jones for the Daily Mail were true.

It is not. Guruvayur temple has two entrances. The main entrance faces the east; the only other gate opens to the west. At neither of these two entrances is an elephant—of whatever sex—chained. Ever. For any length of time, let alone for decades at a stretch.

The passage also nods at another trope—of the pervasive Indian misogyny that extends even to its interactions with animals. Devi, we learn, is doomed to spend her life tied outside a temple she, being female, cannot enter.

Not true. In Guruvayur, bulls typically outnumber females six to one or more, but this gender disparity is more a function of the fact that devotees like to donate males with tusks, and is not indicative of any discrimination on the part of the temple itself.

As far as entering the temple goes, the visual highlight of the day (every day) is the concluding sheeveli (procession). It features three elephants; the central one is almost invariably a male but, as often as not, he is flanked by two females—particularly during the monsoons, when most of the males are in musth and thus unavailableDevi is, in fact, a regular during such processions.

Jones: The only food given here is dry palm leaves…. 

Panicker: The panampatta, leaf of the palm tree, is a staple of captive elephants, certainly in Kerala where the sight of an elephant walking down the road carrying his lunch in his trunk is a sight common enough to merit no comment. However, it is not the only item on the menu for Guruvayur’s elephants. Banana pith and specially cultivated fodder grass are also part of the diet. 

Anayootu (feeding the elephant) is one of the rituals of Guruvayur. Devotees offer to feed the temple’s elephants, for which there is a fixed tariff, as an offering to Lord Ganesh. Big balls of boiled rice, jaggery and bananas make up the ritual offering, and the practice is so popular that devotees have to get on a waiting list for a turn.

Additionally, during July-August each year (during the Malayalam month of Karkidakam), all elephants in residence are subjected to sukha chikitsa, the practice of cleansing and rejuvenation prescribed by Ayurveda that incorporates massage and a special diet for an extended period from 21-45 days.

Jones: I asked Indian families at the Guruvayur Temple what they thought of the elephants….

Panicker: There is no entry fee for Guruvayur. There never has been. Ever.

Jones: Later that day, I meet theologian and elephant expert Venkita Chalam….

Prem Panicker: Discussing how elephants are kept in Guruvayur won’t lead to wholesale Hindu ire—but more on that later. This passage purports to make a central point: that temple elephants in Guruvayur are a recent phenomenon traceable not to religion but to the economic boom of Gulf money pouring into the state from the 1970s on.

Elephants are deeply enshrined in the literature and lore of ancient Kerala. Aithihyamala, Kottarathil Sankunni’s compilation of the foundational myths and legends of Kerala, concludes each “book” with the story of a temple elephant that had already attained legendary status by the beginning of the 1900s. But never mind that—it took me precisely two minutes, and one Google search, to find this:

On January 7, 1928, the Guruvayur temple management wrote to the Zamorin of Calicut to say, inter alia, that the temple elephant Padmanabhan (not to be confused with the one who, despite his deliberately broken leg, has a few hundred fans on Facebook) had just died. So in 1928—that is, 40-plus years before Indians per this report became wealthy overnight—Guruvayur had an elephant, and it was part of the rituals.

Guruvayur’s most famous elephant is Keshavan, donated by Sri Manavedan, valiya raja (senior king) of the royal family of Nilambur. Keshavan died at the age of 72, on December 2, 1976. When an elephant is gifted to the temple, the prescribed ritual is nadayiruthal (seating the elephant before the lord as a formal introduction). Keshavan’s nadayiruthal was in 1922—47 years before elephants came to Guruvayur according to Ms Jones.

After recording such refutations, Prem Panicker says, As a Keralite, and a Hindu who has visited the temple on a few occasions, my reaction to this article would be bewildered amusement.

“But as a journalist and editor, my reaction is far more visceral. I have many problems with this piece—beginning with the fictions, the distortions and the exaggerations. Only some of them are cataloged above; all of them are examples of journalism so shockingly inept that they can be disproved given a functioning internet connection and a few minutes of time.

“Then there is the overt racism embedded in declarations of the order of “The mahout, a vicious-faced little thug….

“There is, too, the incredibly patronizing depiction of mahouts as ‘tribals’ reveling in the misfortune of the elephants in their charge, and even capturing such suffering on their phones: ‘One has a video on his smartphone (they all have smartphones; the government pays their salaries).’ she says.

“Sorry? The government pays the mahouts wages and so they all have smartphones? Not only is the line tone-deaf, it displays a stunning level of ignorance on the part of a journalist who has ostensibly put feet on the ground to ‘report’ this story.

“But if that were all, you could shrug the whole piece off as yet another example of a journalist parachuting into an area with a pre-determined agenda, with eyes and mind open only to those ‘facts’ that support a prefabricated conclusion. And sadly, there is a lot of that going around.”

Panicker adds, “However, the problem is that there is a problem on the ground. Guruvayur’s elephants are housed in the grounds surrounding Punnathur Kotta, a small palace about two kilometers away from the temple. The grounds measure approximately 11 acres—too small a space to adequately house the population of between 50-60 elephants Guruvayur owns at any given point in time.

“Whatever the reason, the captivity is real, it is restrictive, and it is a problem for animals programmed to roam free, far and wide. The constant presence of the shackles creates festering sores—and while vets (of inferior quality, in Ms Jones’ estimation) regularly attend to it, treatment can only be palliative; the shackles remain, and sores fester again. These and other problems, repeatedly documented by animal lovers, activists and even lay visitors (without rousing the Hindu backlash Ms Jones is wary of), even led to a 2012 probe by the Animal Welfare Board of India, led by Dr Arun Sha of Wildlife SOS and Suparna Ganguly, co-founder of Compassion Unlimited Plus Action.”

Prem Panicker concludes, “In its final report submitted in late 2014, the AWBI submitted that among other measures, the elephants must be moved to a larger space; their water sources should be cleaned regularly; visiting hours to the camp should be restricted from the current ten hours so that elephants need not be kept in fetters for extended periods, and so on—a slew of suggestions the temple’s governing body says it has begun to act upon. At a larger level, the process of capturing and taming elephants is brutal, to an almost unbearable degree. We have problems, major issues, that need to be addressed and corrected. And the first step to such correction is honest, factual documentation which in turn leads to awareness and to the resulting public pressure that can produce remediable action.

“It all starts with awareness. And that means real stories. Not self-serving fiction, not half-truths, not outright lies masquerading as reportage. Distortions and untruths harm the very cause the reporter purports to espouse, because they dent the credibility of not just the particular story, but of any reporter or activist raising this issue now and in the future.”

Kalyan VarmaKalyan Varma’s refutation

Kalyan Varma, hailing from Kerala, is one of India’s best wildlife photo journalists. He wrote an “Open Letter to Daily Mail” describing the background of Liz Jones’s visit to India and refuting some of her allegations, which was published by Peepli.org on 18 August 2015:

“This letter is in response to this article written by Liz Jones published on Aug 15th 2015. The article is factually and chronologically wrong, misguided and misinformed, and lacking in basic journalistic ethics. I wish I didn’t have to call this out, but such stories—more fiction than fact, intentionally sensationalised in some parts—actually harm rather than help, and do great injustice to elephant conservation and welfare efforts in India. I write this on the basis of having personally interacted with Jones on her recent visit to India.

“A few days after I published my elephant capture story, I got a mail from one Duncan McNair. He said he was a lawyer from the UK, and was really passionate about conservation of Asian elephants. He runs a charity called Save The Asian Elephants (STAE).

“Duncan mentioned in his mail that he was coming down to India in a few weeks. Elephants in captivity and their management were his main concern, he said, and although he was visiting Kerala to look at elephants in the temple, he also wanted to visit some of the elephant camps in Karnataka. I shared information in a spirit of trust.

“A few weeks later, McNair landed up in India—not alone, as he had told me initially, but with Liz Jones, a journalist/photographer. This was unexpected. Still, I spent hours discussing the complex issues of elephant conflict, capture, and taming with them. McNair seemed to care; Ms Jones on the other hand seemed to me to be clueless about India and about elephants. No amount of conversation—involving me, and others in the conservation movement I introduced them to—managed to dent their preconceptions or cause them to rethink the half-baked information they had already internalised.

“Liz Jones’ trip was funded by Duncan McNair, who runs a charity to support Asian elephants. Jones came here to write a story about elephant torture. I first met her in Bangalore, and at the time reiterated to her that in Karnataka at least, elephants are not tortured and are not exploited commercially. She seemed however to have already made up her mind. Although she asked questions, she refused to accept the answers detailing what really happens here. The impression I had was that she had already constructed her story, and wanted evidence to back it up.”

Having given the background of Liz Jones’s visit along with Duncan McNair, Kalyan Varma rebuts her allegations as follows: 

Jones: Before arriving at the temples, they are forced to spend months at “secret” training camps where they are tortured. There are 12 such secret camps in Kerala.

Varma: The “secret camps” are not secret at all, just regular camps for captured elephants. Such elephants, just trans-located from the wild, are in a transitional phase and the intent is to disturb them as little as possible—therefore, such camps are not meant for the lay tourist. Therein lays the “secrecy” Jones makes so much of. Most elephants in these camps wander free of restraint, and since mahouts do not accompany them at all times, it is unsafe for lay tourists to enter the camps.

Jones: Children of mahouts who live on site in huts throw rocks at him, and the giant, hobbled by chains, retreats, trembling. The mahouts, tribal people who have been living and working with elephants for generations, gather around me. One has a video on his smart phone (they all have smart phones; the government pays their salaries). They howl with laughter as the video shows a wild elephant being captured by dozens of men….

Varma: Mahouts and their children have an amazing family bond with the elephants they look after. I have personally witnessed children, as young as five years old, walk up to a giant tusker and accompany it into the forest. Their “throwing stones” and the reaction of the elephant is an exaggeration—one of many in the piece.

Jones describes the mahouts watching a video one had shot on his smart phone. Again, that is not true—the video they were watching was this one, shot by me and part of my narrative series. The mahouts were part of that operation, along with several elephants from that camp. They were excited to see the video, since it featured them and their elephants—hence the delight, and not because they were reveling in scenes of torture.

Kalyan Varma goes on to rebut some more allegations made by Liz Jones and finally says, “It is in fact true that we have a long way to go in the management and welfare of captive elephants in India. But the situation can only be improved by engaging with the mahouts and the forest department, and by investing in positive-reinforcement training, in addition to solving some elephant conservation issues. Basically, this article is a sensationalized view of the fate of the captive elephants, with lots of “observations” cooked up in the writer’s imagination. I cannot comment about the intention of the piece—it may be good, for all I know—but the primary responsibility of a good reporter, or even a concerned citizen or animal activist, is to tell the truth, plain and unvarnished. Distortions and untruths hurt the very cause such pieces are ostensibly meant to help”.

Sreedhar VijayakrishnanSreedhar Vijayakrishnan’s Refutation 

Sreedhar Vijayakrishnan from Kerala is a wildlife biologist, who has been working in the field of captive elephant management for 15 years, and interacted with Liz Jones. He also wrote an “Open Letter to all self-proclaimed (Social Network) elephant lovers” and published his observations with regard to Liz Jones’s article:

“I’m appalled by the information being passed on by several individuals/organisations about elephants of Kerala—often as shoddy journalism, unfortunately—in the name of facts, many of which off late are baseless allegations. Typical example for this is a latest article in which one of the several random photos posted is that of a musth bull elephant displaying a behavioural trait—a trait common during musth—and the caption reads as atrocities and elephant suffering due to confinement.

“I do admit that there have been stark changes that have been happening in this field, which has not been very positive to elephants, and also several mahouts. The way to prevent the whole process deteriorating any further is not by fighting online, not by raising voices within, not by making ridiculous arguments/photographs/videos and protesting against, but by working more closely with the stakeholders, and realising that it is not an overnight change. It needs slow phasing out. Clearly this is not like rescuing and rehabilitating one or two elephants, we are talking about hundreds … for which you will have to find shelter, caretakers, water, food and what not.

“The fact that is often overlooked, particularly by the western activists is that these people are not born to torture these animals and knowing them, I know that given an option they wouldn’t do any of those acts. It is often true that the mahout—elephant duo do share a bond, which perhaps can be absent in several recent cases as is evident from the various torture videos and photographs. I personally know mahouts who have lost family prioritising elephants over them and mahouts who have lost mental health following demise of their elephants, and these portray the deep relations they maintain(ed). However there are stray incidents off late, where elephants have been abused badly by mahouts but blaming them completely for these actions perhaps does not make sense considering the fact that the ownership of these elephants does not lie with them and they are overseen by the owners.

“The solution to every problem underlies in understanding it at the grassroots level. In this case, most of the people who are vocal against these problems—from my limited knowledge—seem to be fairly unaware of the actual ground reality and cast their opinions based on what is portrayed in national and international media. Please understand that most reports that come these days are completely biased and report random information as facts as is evident from a recent piece in a leading International periodical.”

“There are a few things, that can potentially prove to be successful in managing these issues, such as reducing workload, regulating commercialization, giving better training for mahouts, reducing work related stress, arresting influx to the state, etc.”

Sreedhar Vijayakarishnan concludes, “I personally feel that it is very important to get all the facts in place before raising issues against a practice that has been happening for ages—particularly when it is surrounded by religious and cultural aspects. We need to work towards changing these practices slowly and with reasoned arguments based on ground realities, backed by the science of management. We cannot expect an overnight change. But we must start and engage over a long-term to bring about these changes.”

B.R. HaranMy opinion

After reading Liz Jones’s article and the refutations from Prem Panicker, Kalyan Varma and Sreedhar Vijayakrishnan, one cannot help suspecting the intention of Liz Jones. But Duncan McNair has been an experienced animal welfare activist. So why should he bring a journalist with him? After reading the article written by Liz Jones, published by Daily Mail, we cannot help suspecting the intent of Duncan McNair too! Why should they bother about the welfare of animals in our country when animals in their own country are abused and subjugated cruelly?

As in the past, so in the present, we see many foreign NGOs and foreign-funded NGOs indulging in anti-India activities in many fields; animal rights seems to be one of them. The present government has started taking stringent actions against such NGOs. We need to be careful in dealing with this issue.

Having said that, we cannot deny that captive elephants are abused and subjected to utmost cruelty. Prem Panicker, Kalyan Varma and Sreedhar Vijaykrishnan have also not denied it. They are unanimous that the issue has to be addressed immediately and steps taken for the welfare of captive elephants on a war footing.


» B. R. Haran is an independent senior journalist in Chennai. This series of articles on Indian elephants will be continued.

Guruvayur temple elephant feast

6 – Temples, Elephants and Traditions – B.R. Haran

Thrissur Pooram Festival

B. R. HaranThe animal welfare activists and organisations … have started demanding the removal of elephants from temples altogether. However, the temple authorities, devaswoms and followers of traditions have opposed this, saying it would be against the centuries old religious tradition and temple culture. … Hence, a fair and equitable solution has to be taken by the stakeholders, including the courts of law, taking into consideration the significance of centuries old traditions and the welfare of elephants as put forward by animal welfare activists and bodies. – B. R. Haran

Seal of KeralaKerala

Kerala is the state which has the largest number of captive elephants. This is also the state where captive elephants are most abused and subjected to utmost cruelty. The parading of caparisoned elephants and their role in temple rituals gain a lot of importance during the time of festivals. Its significance has come to such a stage that there would be no temple festivities without elephants.

Thrissur Pooram is a classic example. The magnificent festival celebrated jointly by Vadakkunathan Temple of Thrissur along with the Paramekkavu Temple from the east and the Thiruvambadi Temple from the north is called as Thrissur Pooram. Similarly, apart from Thrissur, elephant parades form an important part of temple festivals in the districts of Palghat and Kollam.

Like elephant parades, fireworks have also become part of temple festivals over the years. The fireworks and elephant parades together make the festivals magnificent and colourful. The UNESCO has declared Thrissur Pooram as the “Most Spectacular Festival Event in the Planet”. Hence, the Kerala temple festivals with parade of caparisoned elephants and huge firework displays have become famous internationally. The fame, focus and significance gained by Thrissur Pooram have motivated the other temples in the state to enhance their festivities, resulting in large-scale commercialization of temple festivals in Kerala as a whole.

Fireworks at Kerala temple festival

Commercialisation of temple festivals

Of late, commercialization has become the order of the day in temple festivals. For owners of elephants and those who trade in explosives, temple festivals have become a good source of revenue. Elephant owners are able to get Rs 75,000/- to Rs 100,000/- as daily rent for giving elephants on hire. The Devaswoms also get revenue of Rs 700,000/- to Rs 10,00,000/- during festivals.

Here, it must be noted that even churches and mosques are using elephants and parade them during festivals.

Owning an elephant is considered a prestige issue. Owning an elephant and donating an elephant to a temple are considered as prestigious acts.

An important aspect of this commercialization is that “Ownership Certificates” are available for sale. The ownership certificates of dead elephants, which are not recorded by the forest department, are used for illegally obtained elephants. The officials of the forest and animal husbandry departments are a part of this illegal business.

Elephants chained on four legs, made to stand 10 hours at Thrissur Pooram Festival

Abuse of elephants during festivals

The parading of caparisoned elephants and usage of high decibel explosives are a recent phenomenon. Earlier, elephants were used for carrying deities during utsavams, bringing the kalasams (pots) with sacred waters for consecrations, regular Gaja Poojas and other important rituals which require the role of elephants. Even the Vedi Vazhipaadu (worship by bursting a cracker) used to be an ordinary affair, performed away from the place where elephants are present, with very low decibel levels. Even the display of fireworks used to be a low-key affair for a few minutes duration only.

But, of late, due to commercialization of festivals, the participation of elephants for parade and procession has increased and the duration of fireworks display has also increased with the usage of high decibel explosives. Thousands of people congregate for these festivals. For famous festivals like Poorams, people gather in lakhs.

For the safety of the public and to avoid incidents of elephants running amuck, the elephants’ legs are tied with chains, rendering them immobile and making them stand for hours together. Even during normal times, captive elephants are tied with chains in one or two legs. During festivals, all four legs are tied with chains which are also tied around their bodies. They are made to stand for 8 to 10 hours during festivals. So, festivals are a huge ordeal for the elephants which are already suffering with so many problems like wounds, abscesses, arthritis, etc.

Elephants hired for festivals are also transported for hundreds of kilometers from one temple to another temple in another city or town, without proper rest during the entire festival season. This again is a different kind of ordeal for them.

Elephants have a remarkable hearing capacity and their ears are very sensitive. Even an artificial low decibel sound would affect the elephants badly. When the surrounding area is noisy, they tend to go way from that place. Sometimes, when the sound is of high decibel, they immediately attempt to run from that place. One can imagine the plight of such a highly sensitive animal and the pain and suffering it undergoes, being tied with chains and made to stand for hours together in a place, where high decibel fireworks are displayed.

Hence, the hustle and bustle of the festivals with thousands of people, irritation caused by the sound of drums (chenda melam) and other instruments, high decibel fireworks and explosives, pain caused by chaining of body and legs and the mahouts pinching them with ankushes all make their suffering unbearable!

Mostly “tuskers” are used in Kerala festivals. As they appear tall and majestic with their long trunk and tusks, huge body, long legs, etc., they are welcomed, received and greeted with cheer by the public. However, the tuskers are subjected to extreme cruelty during the period of musth, say three to four months, during which time the secretion of testosterone increases and the tuskers yearn for female companions. They tend to be aggressive and during such times they do not even obey their mahouts, with whom they supposedly have a close relationship. Sometimes, they even kill humans or other animals standing nearby.

So, the owners and mahouts keep them chained in an isolated place. They will not be given any work. They are given only reduced quantity of food and water until the end of the period of musth. They are also beaten mercilessly to keep them silent and under control. They are not only prevented from acting as per their natural behavioral traits, but are also made to undergo pain and suffering in isolation, leading to psychological problems.

Due to immense suffering in isolation, the captive elephants tend to escape from captivity whenever they get an opportunity, and in the process, they also take revenge on the mahouts who have been abusing them during the period of captivity. When the elephants run amuck, mahouts and members of general public also get killed. Sometimes, elephants also die due to various reasons. Such untoward incidents are quite common and happened many times in Kerala.

Elephant running amuck at festival

Untoward Incidents

• 2006-2007: 15 persons (10 mahouts and 5 from public) died

• 2007: 64 elephants died

• 2008: 72 elephants died

• 2009: 79 elephants died

• 2007 to 2010: 215 elephants died in the four southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra. In the same period, 71 mahouts and 88 persons from the public also died

• 2010: 12 mahouts and 5 persons from public died

• 2010 to 2013: 269 elephants died

• Between January and August (8 months) in 2013: 36 captive elephants died, of which 29 belonged to private owners and 7 belonged to the Forest Department

• January 2013: Captive elephant Ramachandran of Thethechikkottukavu Peramangalam Devaswom ran amuck in the midst of a festival in Rayamangalam and trampled 3 women to death

• 2014: 24 captive elephants died

• 2015: 11 captive elephants died

• Up to June 2016: 11 captive elephants died

• In the last 15 years up to 2015: 526 people have been killed by captive elephants running amuck in the state

Moreover, many lives have been lost due to the explosives used for fireworks. Like Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu, fireworks and explosives are produced in small towns in Palghat and Trichur districts. Vedi Vazhipadu is a tradition practiced in Kerala and these explosives are used for that purpose. Large scale fireworks display is carried out in more than 150 temples in Kerala. These have led to many untoward incidents and heavy casualties.

• 1978: 8 people died in Thrissur Pooram festival

• 1987: 20 people died in Velur temple festival in Thrissur district

• 1990: 26 people died in Malanadu temple festival in Kollam district

• 2006: 7 people died in Thrissur Pooram

• 2013 to 2015: 213 accidents occurred in which 451 people died. Of these, 50 accidents were in Thrissur and Palghat districts, in which 101 people lost their lives

• 9 April 2016: 110 people died in the accident caused by explosives in Puttingal Devi Amman Temple of Paravur in Kollam district

Accident caused by fireworks in Puttingal Devi Amman Temple of Paravur, Kerala

Court cases and orders

The Supreme Court has already ordered that fireworks display using explosives must not be conducted between 10 pm and 6 am. However, in Puttingal Devi Amman Temple festival in April 2016, fireworks using high decibel explosives (above the permitted level) were conducted in the middle of the night for more than three hours.

In the aftermath of the Puttingal accident, a judge from Kerala wrote a letter to the High Court of Kerala demanding a ban on display of fireworks in temple festivals. Treating his letter as a PIL, the HC Bench (Justices P. Radhakrishnan and Anu Sivaraman) ordered a ban on firework display between sunset and sunrise. They permitted fireworks display with a specified decibel level during day time.

People die due to accidents caused by explosives; people also die when elephants run amuck; the explosives and fireworks cause immense sufferings to elephants; mahouts die trampled by elephants. Because of all this, animal welfare activists oppose the use of elephants and explosives in festivals.

During the Makara Vilakku festival season in the famous Sabarimala Temple, procession of elephants following the lead elephant carrying the deity is a tradition. During last year’s procession, a woman aged 68 years died after being trampled by an elephant which deviated from the procession and ran amuck. Subsequently, the Special Commissioner of Sabarimala submitted a report, and based on that report, the HC solicited the views of the Tantris of Sabarimala, Mahesh Mohanararu and Kanthararu Rajeevaru.

Although both of them concurred that elephants are not an integral part of temple rituals, they differed in their opinion with regard to the usage of elephants in festivals. The Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages around 1200 temples including Sabarimala, opposed the views put forward by the Tantris and submitted that the present rituals and traditions must be retained intact. Finally the HC banned the use of elephants during the Makara Vilakku season, but permitted the use of one elephant for carrying the deity during the annual festival.

Prior to this order, during the first week of April, the HC Bench comprising Justices B. Radhakrishnan and Anu Sivaraman directed all Devaswom Boards to ascertain from the Tantris (chief priests) if elephants are an integral part of temple festivals and their use in temple rituals and practices is an inexcusable component and required to be continued. The Devaswom Boards are expected to file their reports soon.

Consequent to the accident at Puttingal Devi Amman Temple and the High Court’s order in Sabarimala case, the management of the famous Pazhavangady Mahaganapathy Temple (located close to the famous Thiruvananthapuram Padmanabaswamy Temple) decided against the use of elephants for procession in future. Hereafter, the Deity is likely to be taken in a motorized vehicle instead of an elephant. The temple’s Tantri seems to have agreed to the decision. The management has also decided to do away with the display of fireworks.

The animal welfare activists and organisations have welcomed the High Court’s order in the Sabarimala case and the decision of the Pazhavangady Temple management. They have started demanding the removal of elephants from temples altogether. However, the temple authorities, devaswoms and followers of traditions have opposed this, saying it would be against the centuries old religious tradition and temple culture.

Hence, a fair and equitable solution has to be taken by the stakeholders, including the courts of law, taking into consideration the significance of centuries old traditions and the welfare of elephants as put forward by animal welfare activists and bodies. In the process, the stakeholders and courts of law must also pay serious attention to the atrocious aspect of commercialization of temple festivals and find out ways to curtail it.

(To be continued)

» B. R. Haran is an independent senior journalist in Chennai.

Elephants and mahouts at rest during festival. Elephants are chained so that they cannot move and inch!

Lessons from the Chennai floods for Kerala – C. I. Issac

Chennai Floods 2015

Prof C. I. Issac“Here in Kerala, the numbers and significance of the people who adore nature as ‘Mother’ is shrinking day by day. At the same time, the importance and influence of religions which advocate nature as a resource to alleviate the greed of man is also mounting day by day. The best example of this was the destiny of the Madhav Gadgil Committee Report and the role played by the bishops.” – Prof C. I. Issac

The main reason behind the disaster borne out of the unpredicted outburst of floods in Chennai was the humiliation of ‘Mother Earth’ by the regimes of the Metro City and Fort St. George for last three decades. This is not a topic confined to the Tamil Nadu state alone, but the warning of the times, the writing on the wall for the entire country, and specifically for the state of Kerala.

Kerala is the most densely populated state in India; according to the latest available data, the State’s density of population is 860 per square kilometre. A place with regular and recurring rainfall, it is now in the extra danger zone. Should a Chennai-like situation develop here, the depth and extent of the calamity could be far more disastrous than Tamil Nadu.  

Chennai Floods 2015The main reason for the present havoc caused by floods in Chennai is the creation of the greedy real estate and construction mafia. Related to this is the unscientific road construction along with the encroachment of creeks, backwaters and other traditional water-clogging areas by a highly influential section in the political class of Tamil Nadu.

These areas are vital mechanisms of nature, because while at the time of frantic and violent rain these creaks will drain-out the excess flood water, the rest will be absorbed by the lakes, backwaters and other traditional or natural water-storing areas. All these are now a panorama of bygone days in most of our cities. This write-up is concerned with the situation in Kerala. 

Kerala is the single largest metropolis of India with a population 33.3 million (2011 census), excluding expatriates. The repercussions from any sort of natural calamity in this ‘God’s Own Country’ (the land created by Lord Parasurama) will be far worse than Chennai.

This is because the topography and density of population in Kerala is entirely different from that in the rest of India. God created this land with all safety valves to overcome any such adverse situations that occur rhythmically in nature. Kerala has 44 west-flowing rivers and each river has 150 to 250 tributaries and 10 to 50 distributaries that embrace the sea; hitherto the backwaters also functioned as flood water managers.

It is a wonder that nature has provided such a fantastic device to a place with a landmass of 38,863 sq. km., and length is 580 km. This enabled Kerala to survive as a safe haven for human habitation all this time. But in recent decades, the flow of petro-dollars along with hawala money and counterfeits from the 1970s onwards, sabotaged the divine human-nature relations of Kerala.

Today, all the 44 rivers of Kerala have shrunk by 2/3 of their natural width. As many as 50 per cent tributary rivers have vanished. The banks of the backwaters are subject to encroachments in Cochin, Kumarakom (famous for its bird sanctuary), and so on in all the cities and towns of Kerala, all under the benediction of the ruling and opposition parties in the Legislative Assembly. 

One such encroachment of a backwater by a company run by an in-law of the Congress dynasty was unearthed by the visual media of Kerala. (I mention this instance only to show the power and impunity of persons who plunder nature and violate the law in this state). Under the umbrella of these administrative forces, several malls and resorts have mushroomed by acquiring government purambokku (government land belonging to none), river beds, shallow regions of backwaters and violating lease agreements in cities like Cochin.

In cities like Trivandrum and the like, the business communities are occupying roads and streets under the power of collective communal vote banks. All such violations have enjoyed the backing of both the ruling and opposition parties. This nexus has also worked to sabotage the genuine infrastructural projects of the state. What was the destiny of the Gadgil Commission ReportMadhav Gadgil Committee Report to save the Western Ghats? This is a well-known story, so I am not going to dwell upon it.

In the wake of havoc caused by the recent Chennai flood, the Chief Minister of Kerala announced that development means not two-storied buildings but skyscrapers. This response of the Chief Minister was in the light of the decision of the State Fire Department Chief to implement fire norms strictly in the case of flats, apartments, shopping malls and skyscrapers. This decision of the Fire Department opened a ‘wrestling platform’ in which doyens of the builder lobby met the State Fire Chief and the poor Fire Chief was knocked out.

The irony was that the (unfair) umpire on the platform was the Chief Minister of Kerala. The result was that the Chief of the State Fire Department lost his chair. And the State Cabinet decided to apply the 1994 State Municipal Building Rules by evading the existing National Laws and Acts relating to the building of skyscrapers in the state hereafter. A recent non-formal study says that 90 per cent of the big budget constructions since 2000 are going on in blatant violation of the vital norms of the State Building Rules. Yet all these hitherto construction violations were ratified by the authorities!

Here in Kerala, the numbers and significance of the people who adore nature as ‘Mother’ is shrinking day by day. At the same time, the importance and influence of religions which advocate nature as a resource to alleviate the greed of man is also mounting day by day. The best example of this was the destiny of the Madhav Gadgil Committee Report and the role played by the bishops.

One bishop went to the extent of threatening the State Government that “they have no hesitation to create another Kashmir in Kerala if they go with Madhav Gadgil suggestions.” Sadly, the impotent law making and implementing authority of the day in Kerala shut their ears and closed their eyes before this treasonable threat of the bishop, thereby revealing the destiny that lies ahead for ‘God’s own country’ in the days to come. – Vijayvaani, 8 December 2015

Lynn Townsend White Jr

Prof Lynn Townsend White Jr

Woman journalist threatened for describing sexual abuse in a Kerala madrassa – Haritha John

Rajeena's Facebook Profile

Haritha John“Ever since Rajeena put up the Facebook post, she was at the receiving end of a barrage of abuses and threats, forcing her to write another post in which she declared that despite everything, she would remain fearless.” – Haritha John

On 22 November, a senior journalist working with a prominent Malayalam newspaper wrote a poignant post on her Facebook account about sexual abuses her classmates had to face in a madrassa years ago. For more than 24 hours now, journalist VP Rajeena’s Facebook account has been blocked, and she continues to receive threats.

In the Facebook post that became controversial Rajeena reminisced about an ustad or teacher at a Sunni madrassa in Kozhikode city, who would feel up her male classmates’ private parts. She described how young boys in the class would be summoned by the ustad and asked to unzip their shorts. Rajeena said that even as the boys squirmed, the girls too were left embarrassed and shocked. The ustad would then tell the boys that he was only checking the size, she wrote. She also talked about how such experiences were spread out across her six years of education at the madrassa and even the girls in her class were not spared. The journalist also alleged that another ustad who was above 60 years would move around the class during power cuts and sexually abuse minor girls.

Ever since Rajeena put up the Facebook post, she was at the receiving end of a barrage of abuses and threats, forcing her to write another post in which she declared that despite everything, she would remain fearless.

“Curses… Abuses… Venom spewing… Let everything befall on me. But I am least afraid because Allah is with me. And so, even if the whole world turns against me, I will not fear. It is becoming clearer that whatever I did was the correct thing. Even my life is at stake. History is replete with such stories of annihilation of voices that dissent. I am ready to face that.” (Translated by Firstpost).

“After I put up the Facebook post my account was blocked for some time and it later came back. But from Wednesday morning it was blocked again and has not been reinstated by Facebook,” Rajeena told The News Minute (at the time of writing this on Wednesday night Rajeena’s Facebook account was still blocked, but the account was restored on Thursday morning.)

Rajeena's FB Post

Rajeena believes she is being targeted for various reasons.

“I am a woman, a Muslim woman that too and a journalist, so such a revelation from me was unacceptable for many. What should have led to a healthy debate on child sexual abuse has [degenerated] to a fight against me. I have been called an anarchist and someone with an agenda to defame a particular religion,” she said.

Read some disgusting comments that Rajeena got for her post, which show how rotten some people are.

Many prominent voices in Kerala like V. T. Balram, M. A. Baby, Sarah Joseph and B. R. P. Bhaskar have come out asking for Rajeena’s Facebook account to be restored and for a sane discussion on madrassas and other educational institutions. Read what they have to say here. – The News Minute, 25 November 2015

V. P. Rajeena

V. P. Rajeena is a Ramnath Goenka awardee. She has vowed to come out with more disclosures on sexual abuse and misconduct in madrassas through social media.

V. P. Rajeena interviewed by A. Mili in The New Indian Express

Q: You belong to an orthodox middle-class Muslim family in Malabar and studied in a madrassa run by a particular faction? Where there any religious or political reasons that prompted you to make such a post?

A: I am not a follower of any political party, and as many people claim I am not a member of the Jamaat-e-Islami. Though, I work for a newspaper which subscribes to that ideology, you cannot associate me with a particular ideology. I have specified in my post that the madrassa referred to was E. K. Samastha Sunni madrassa for better clarification. The divide among the separate groups of Sunnis is so deep that a less lucid post could lead to further divide among the public.

Q: There is nothing new in your post. There have been sexual abuse cases involving madrassa teachers. Then why did you make such a disclosure now?

A: I was patiently waiting for the opportune time. India is facing a major threat from communal fascist forces. Religious intolerance has grown to such a level that even girls and boys are not allowed to sit together in classes. The major criticism against me was that I gave the communal forces a reason to criticise the Muslims again. See, my point is that, in order to fight the communal fascist elements, we must be clean. We should be tolerant enough to face criticism. It is the intolerant clerics, who have given enough fodder to those flaying Muslims. Had they reacted in a healthy manner, the discussion would have brought in a sea change in the community.

Q: What next? Are you planning to move ahead with the crusade for gender equality or are you withdrawing following the online attack?

A: I am part of a progressive group of Muslim women, who want to usher in change in  society. We have issues pertaining to divorce and dowry within the community. There are many questions to be answered like, where should the girl go after the divorce, what is her status? Who should she remarry? And coming to the dowry system, it is a larger context to be discussed in the society. There is no gender inequality in the religion. It is the clerics who create the divide. Those, who threatened me, are a large group of men moulded by the clerics.

Q: Unfortunately, no major political party came to your rescue, especially the secular parties. Why?

A: I got the backing of many activists and writers. B. R. P. Bhaskar, singer Shahabaz Aman, director Ashiq Abu, critic Abdul Kareem Uttalkandiyil, Rekha Raj and many other online activists supported me. I have not faced any issues from the media organisation where I am working. I am getting the support of a majority, who are not active on Facebook. This is a positive sign. We are getting more energy to work for the better.

Q: Are you planning to bring the offensive comments to the attention of Cyber Cell?

A: We are taking the screenshots of the offensive comments and will approach Cyber Cell if needed. I am scouring all the comments on my FB wall. This is not the first time a woman has been harassed online for expressing her bold views. – TNIE, 28 November 2015

» Haritha John reports for The News Minute in Kochi, Kerala.
» Anupama Mili reports for The New Indian Express in Malappuram, Kerala.

V. P. Rajeena

Though Hindus support V. P. Rajeena, she has joined the specious intolerance debate created by the secularists and has adopted their abusive terminology!

Church and prohibition in Kerala – C. I. Issac

Prof C. I. Issac“In recent days, the Church exerted pressure over the Government of Kerala and succeeded in closing down 700 bar hotels and 35 of the 350 retail liquor outlets of the State Beverages Corporation. Now only 24 bar hotels are functioning. … The majority of bar hotels closed down were owned by the Hindu community. The Christians lost nothing! Instead, the government permitted them to open wine parlours in every nook and corner of the state. This is the greatest victory of the Church.” – Prof  C. I. Issac

Catholic Church in KeralaIt is said that the Churches in India, particularly of Kerala, are ‘a committed force’ to fulfil the dreams of the father of the nation – Gandhiji – for a spirit-free Bharat. At the time of his struggle against the British Raj, the Churches in India, notwithstanding theological differences, extended spiritual, moral and material support for the continuation of the Raj in India.

After independence, the Church adjusted to the new reality and became blind supporters of the Congress party of Jawaharlal Nehru and are still loyal to them. Our discussion concerns the Church’s dubious approach towards the policy of prohibition.  

Indian Churches are at the helm of all anti-liquor organisations in all states, though they are running more wineries than the distilleries in India! Each diocese has a winery in order to fulfill the said requirements of their priests, nuns and laities. The paradox is that they are nowadays running after the state governments to enhance the capacity of their wineries. The justification for this demand is that the Christian population has enhanced considerably.

In the last century, Kerala Christians were 22 per cent of the population; now they are 19 percent. Census reports show that the Christian population in India and particularly Kerala is in negative growth phase. The negative growth phenomenon is prevalent particularly amongst Syrian Christians, a major group of Kerala, identified by Sonia Gandhi & George Alencherrydemographers as suffering from the ‘Parsi Syndrome’. Then what is the basis of the priestly demand for more wine?

According to reports in regional newspapers, the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Ankamali of Syro-Malabar Catholic Church submitted an application to the state Excise Department seeking to enhance its wineries’ production capacity from 1600 liters to 5000 litres. (See The Hindu, Kochi & Mathrubhumi, Kottayam, 20 May 2015). Cardinal Mar George Alencherry, a leader of the Prohibition Movement in Kerala, is the applicant!

To Christians, wine is a holy drink because it was served during Jesus’ Last Supper. So it is a necessary item to fulfill the requirement of their spiritual needs. Hence nobody questions the use of wine in communion. The consumption of wine during Holy Mass by a laity is less than one drop. So what is the rationale behind the Church demand to vastly enhance production of wine?

The alcohol content in wine is 6 to 7 percent. The wine consumption promoting Churches usually blame certain Hindu temples’ practice of offering country liquor such as toddy, which contain less or equal alcohol to wine, to their deities. In recent days, the Church exerted pressure over the Government of Kerala and succeeded in closing down 700 bar hotels and 35 of the 350 retail liquor outlets of the State Beverages Corporation. Now only 24 bar hotels are functioning. This is the greatest victory of the Church.

The majority of bar hotels closed down were owned by the Hindu (Ezhava) community. The Christians lost nothing! Instead, the government permitted them to open wine parlours in every nook and corner of the state. Now Kerala is not only ‘God’s Own Country’ but also the land of ‘wine and beer’. Naturally, the Church which condemned the liquor policy of the government now kept discreet silence and extended moral support to the government’s new policy of wine and beer.

George AlencherryThe Church is clearly conflicted in this matter. Its frontal organisation to fight against the curse of liquor, the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council Prohibition Movement (KCBC), proposed to conduct a two-day training camp of its prohibition workers on 18 and 19 May 2015 at the Renewal Centre, Kaloor, Ernakulam. The entire 31 dioceses from all the three rites were represented in this camp. (Mathrubhumi, Kottayam, 16 May 2015). 

Ironically, before the camp ended, the Church applied for enhancement of the capacity of one winery. The other dioceses and missionary organisations will soon follow in the footsteps of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Ankamali.

We can only acclaim, “Long lives the Church’s liquor policy”, or pray, “Forgive them, Father! They do not know what they are doing”. (Luke, Chapter 23, verses 32). – Vijayvaani, 1 June 2015 

» Prof C. I. Issac is a member of the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR)

Haneesh Pathiyeri

Rally against bar closure in Kerala (2014)