Freeing temples from state control – Subramanian Swamy

Srirangam Temple Gopuram

Subramanian SwamyWhat is scandalous is the corruption after the takeover of temples as politicians and officials loot the temple’s wealth and land, and divert donations of devotees to non-religious purposes. – Dr Subramanian Swamy

The Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgment on January 6, 2013, allowing my Special Leave Petition that sought the quashing of the Tamil Nadu Government’s G.O. of 2006 which had mandated the government takeover of the hallowed Sri Sabhanayagar Temple (popularly known as the Nataraja Temple).

The Madras High Court Single Judge and Division Bench had in 2009 upheld the constitutionality of the G.O. by a tortuous and convoluted logic that new laws can overturn past court judgments that had attained finality earlier. The Supreme Court in 1953 had dismissed the then Madras Government’s SLP seeking the quashing of a Madras High Court Division Bench judgment of 1952 that had upheld the right of Podu Dikshitars to administer the affairs of the Nataraja Temple while dismissing all charges of misappropriation of temple funds against the Dikshitars. The Supreme Court thus made this judgment final and hence that which cannot be re-opened. But in 2009 the Madras High Court did precisely that. In 2014, in my SLP, the Supreme Court Bench of Justices B.S. Chauhan and S.A. Bobde therefore termed this re-opening of the matter as “judicial indiscipline” and set aside the 2009 Madras High Court judgment as null and void on the principle of res judicata.

In their lengthy judgment, the Bench has clearly set the constitutional parameters on the scope of governmental intervention in the management of religious institutions. In particular, the Court has opined that any G.O. that legally mandates a takeover of a temple must be for a fixed limited period, which I had suggested as three years.

The Dravidian movement intellectuals and politicians in various parties in Tamil Nadu are incensed with the judgment. The recent article “Reforms in the House of God” (A. Srivathsan in The Hindu January 13, 2013) is one such example that laments the Supreme Court judgment.

In this Dravidian movement background, it is not difficult to understand the views of those who believe that Hindu temples ought to be managed by the government, and that any deviation is a social, ethical, moral and legal sacrilege! In Mr. Srivathsan’s article it is stated that: “For almost a century, the Tamil Nadu government has been trying to bring the Chidambaram Natarajar Temple or the Sabanayagar Temple as it is officially known, under state administration”. This is one expression of the outlook that only Hindu religious affairs need to be managed by the government. The obvious question, why should a “secular, socialist” government control only Hindu places of worship, but not Muslim and Christian religious institutions clearly has been avoided.

But the country has moved on after the phase of British imperialist grip on Tamil Nadu during which phase the Dravidian Movement was founded. Prominent leaders of this Movement had declared that “blowing up of the Nataraja Temple by a cannon is the goal of the Dravidian Movement”. Unfortunately for them, in the last two decades, the rising popularity of the Hindu religion among the youth, and the debilitating corruption in financial affairs of the Dravidian movement have made such a violent aim unattainable. But the biggest roadblock is the Constitution of India.

In fact, what is scandalous is the corruption after takeover of temples by the Tamil Nadu officials, MLAs and Ministers by looting the temple wealth, lands, and jewels, and the reckless diversion of donations of devotees to non-religious purposes.

For example, temple properties: Tamil Nadu temples, under Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Department, has control over more than 4.7 lakh acres of agricultural land, 2.6 crore square feet of buildings and 29 crore square feet of urban sites of temples. By any reasonable measure, the income from these properties should be in thousand of crores of rupees. The government, however, collects a mere Rs. 36 crore in rent against a “demand” of mere Rs. 304 crore—around 12 per cent realisation. How much is under the table only a court-monitored inquiry can reveal. In any corporate or well-managed organisation with accountability, those responsible would have been sacked. Yet, we have people rooting for “government administration”.

Temples themselves: The Srirangam Ranganathar Temple paid the government a (yearly) fee of Rs. 18.56 crore (2010-11) for “administering the temple”; for employees rendering religious services, like reciting Vedas, pasurams during the deity procession, no salary is paid. There are 36 priests in Srirangam who perform the daily pujas—they are not paid a monthly fixed salary. They are entitled to offerings made by devotees and a share in the sale of archana tickets. Yet the temple pays a monthly salary ranging from Rs.8,000 to Rs.20,000 for the temple’s government-appointed employees, like watchman, car drivers etc. who perform no religious duties.

The situation is “significantly” better at the famous Nelliappar Temple in Tirunelveli. In this temple, priests performing daily pujas are paid monthly salaries, but ranging from Rs. 55 to Rs. 72 (and this is during 2010-11). But did some politician not say you can have a hearty meal for Rs. 5 per day? But it is just Rs. 1.65 per day, going by the standards of the “secular” government.

Many large temples maintain a fleet of luxury vehicles, typically the “fully loaded Toyota Innova”, for the use of VIPs! And for the use of assorted Joint and Additional Commissioners and, of course, the Commissioner himself. It is very difficult to understand the religious purpose such extravagance serves or even a ‘secular’ purpose! The HR & CE Dept takes away annually around Rs. 89 crore from the temples as administrative fee. The expenditure of the department including salaries is only Rs. 49 crore. Why does the government overcharge the temples—literally scourging the deities—for a sub standard service?

Temple antiquity: The third “contribution” of the government is the mindless destruction of priceless architectural heritage of our temples.

There are several instances of sand blasting of temple walls resulting in loss of historical inscriptions; wholesale demolition of temple structures and their replacement by concrete monstrosities; in a temple in Nasiyanur near Salem, an entire temple mandapam disappeared, leaving behind a deep hole in the ground, literally.

Recently the government started covering the floor of Tiruvotriyur Thyagaraja Temple with marble, a stone never used in south Indian temples. The original floor was of ancient granite slabs with historical inscriptions. There are several initiatives for “renovation” of temples—the bureaucrats rarely consult archaeologists or heritage experts. Without knowledge, experience, competence or appreciation and with great insensitivity they use inappropriate chemicals on ancient murals, insert concrete/cement structures, use ceramic tiles to “embellish” sanctum sanctorum and construct “offices” within temple premises. Ancient monuments 300 to 1000 plus years old are never “renovated”, only “restored”, a distinction that escapes the babus.

More importantly, the Supreme Court, in the 2014 Chidambaram case has held that the government cannot arbitrarily take over temples, which is what has been happening in Tamil Nadu under the Dravidian movement’s influence.

In the case of Trusts and Societies, takeover of temples can happen, the Supreme Court held, only on establishing a clear case of mal-administration and that too the takeover can be for a limited period, and the management of the temple will have to be handed back immediately after the “evil has been remedied”.

There are several large temples in Tamil Nadu under government control for several decades. If the Supreme Court judgment is applied, then the government is in illegal, unethical and unfair control of these temples. apart from being answerable for innumerable acts of dereliction of duty, defiling of temples that has resulted in loss of several thousands of crores of rupees to the temples and to their antiquity. That is my next move—to liberate all Hindu temples presently in government control on expired GOs. In the future we need to bring some mosques and churches to rectify the mismanagement going on in these places. Then the secularism of India’s intellectuals will be truly tested. – The Hindu, 12 September 2016

Chidambaram Nataraja Temple

VIDEO: Rebirth of the Bateshwar Temple Complex – K.K. Muhammed

Gold worth Rs 186 crore missing from Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Kerala – ENS

Padmanabhaswamy Temple Gopuram

Vinod RaiIn July 2011 the Supreme Court committee stumbled upon six vaults in the temple, with just one vault left to be opened. The treasure that has been found in the other five vaults have been estimated to be valued at more than Rs 100,000 crore. – ENS

In a startling revelation, the Vinod Rai committee special audit report on Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, stated that a lot of financial irregularities and corruption is going on in the temple administration and gold worth Rs 186 crore have gone missing.

According to sources, the report by former comptroller and auditor general Vinod Rai are in two volumes and five parts running into 1,000 pages. The Supreme Court had asked Rai in October 2015 to complete the audit and submit its report.

This directive came on the recommendations of amicus curiae and senior advocate Gopal Subramaniam, who had sought overhauling of the functioning of the temple.

The report states that there is a loss of 263 gold on the name of purification and states that gold worth Rs 186 crore in the form of 769 gold pots are not traceable.

Rai, in his report, has recommended a committee probe to oversee these irregularities.

“Gold worth Rs 2.50 crore was lost because of change in ratio adopted for purification. Moreover, the residual quantity of gold was not recovered from the contractor which lead to a loss of Rs 59 lakhs,” sources said.

“There was a lack of transparency in kanikka [gift offering] counting. Gold and silver worth Rs 14.18 lakh had not been entered in the nadavarav register, which is illegal,” according to the report.

“Silver bar with value of Rs 14 lakh was found to be missing,” the report said.

Gopal SubramaniumThe temple trust illegally sold 2.11 acres of land in 1970 and no records were found.

The report also expressed surprise over the sudden increase of expenditure in temple management over several years and termed it as “abnormal”.

The committee has also recommended major changes in the temple administration system and suggested that it should now be a seven-member committee headed by a retired section-level officer, tantric, two prominent citizens, representative of state and the royal family.

The report also suggested major changes in the temple’s security arrangements and said, “Priceless items in the temple should be housed in a modern museum and security installments need to be altered a bit.”

The audit was done for the financial year 2004-2014.

In July 2011 the apex court committee stumbled upon six vaults in the temple, with just vault B left to be opened. The treasure that has been found in the other five vaults have been estimated to be valued more than Rs 100,000 crore.

Since then, armed security guards, besides state of the art security equipment, have been deployed for the safe upkeep of the treasure. – The New Indian Express, 15 August 2016

Sri Padmanabhaswamy's treasure.

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

Neil Nitin Mukesh

B. R. HaranIt is an ugly fact that most of the … rules and regulations [to protect elephants] are violated with impunity and the various government departments are aware of it. It is unfortunate that the authorities are hand in glove with the violators in many places. … [and it] is causing immense damage to the welfare of elephants. – B. R. Haran

We have seen the unmitigated pain of captive elephants in temples and private places and the reasons behind it. It would be pertinent to know the details of illegalities and legal violations by the mahouts and the owners of captive elephants. The owners and mahouts of captive elephants violate several Acts, Laws, Notifications, Orders and Guidelines.

Illegal Possession of Elephants: As per Section 43 of Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972, No person having in his possession captive animal, animal article, trophy or uncured trophy in respect of which he has a certificate of ownership shall transfer by way of sale or offer for sale or by any other mode of consideration of commercial nature, such animal or article or trophy or uncured trophy”.

Elephant RajuHowever, most of the captive elephants have been sold and bought (including elephants bought by temples and mathams) violating Section 43. 

Outdated and Invalid Ownership Certificates: As per Point 1 of the Guidelines for Care and Management of Captive Elephants, issued by Project Elephant Division of Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change,

All States/UTs would carry out a fresh survey of the captive elephants in their territory within a period of six months and report the number to the Ministry. All the captive elephants shall be micro chipped for which chips have been provided in adequate numbers to the States/UTs. Fresh ownership certificate should be issued in the form annexed for a period of five years and should be renewed every five years in case there is no violation of the norms to be followed”.

However, this law is observed more in the breach and several owners of captive elephants keep either an outdated or an invalid ownership certificate. 

Forcing Injured or Unfit Elephants to Work: Section 11-1-b of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 says, “If any person employs in any work or labour or for any purpose any animal which, by reason of its age or any disease, infirmity, wound, sore or other cause, is unfit to be so employed or, being the owner, permits any such unfit animal to be employed; he shall be punishable”.

Most of the captive elephants are either injured or wounded or diseased or terribly weak. But the owners and mahouts have been known to not only exhibit them in public places and functions, they have also been put to work.

Continuous Tethering and Chaining by more than One Foot:  Section 11-1-f of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 says, “If any person keeps for an unreasonable time any animal chained or tethered upon an unreasonably short or unreasonably heavy chain or cord; he shall be punished”.

Captive elephants are chained or tethered for more than 20 hours a day and many of them are chained by more than one foot with short and heavy oxidized chains. This violation happens in all places, with no exceptions.

Using Iron Ankush: The Rajasthan High Court has banned the use of iron ankush (goad). The order permits its usage only in extreme or dangerous situations that might result in danger to the public. The order explicitly says, “Only ankushes made from wood or bamboo or cane must be used to control the elephants. The metal ankushes carried by mahouts must not be visible to the elephants. They can be used only during extreme situations which could result in danger to the public”.

However, this order is being violated at will in many places and the mahouts do not hesitate to use iron ankushes which also have sharp bull-hooks at one end!

Mutilation: Section 11-1-a of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 says, “If any person beats, kicks, over-rides, over-drives, over-loads, tortures or otherwise treats any animal so as to subject it to unnecessary pain or suffering or causes, or being the owner permits, any animal to be so treated; he shall be punished”.

The hairs (from tail and other parts of the body) of captive elephants are removed by using blades and razors and then sold in black markets where there is a huge demand for them. While removing the hairs, the mahouts and owners subject the elephants to utmost cruelty which ultimately results in injuries and sometimes even fracture and dislocation of tail bones, which are an extension of the elephant’s vertebra. These are gross but routine and pervasive violations of the above said section of PCA Act.

Not Arranging Free Access to Water and Nutritious Food:  Section 11-1-h of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 says, “If any person being the owner of (any animal) fails to provide such animal with sufficient food, drink or shelter, he shall be punished”. Also the Rajasthan High Court’s Order says, “The owner of the elephant or its contractor or hirer must provide sufficient potable water to the elephant preferably from a source of running water”.

As we have seen in many cases, potable water and nutritious food are not provided to captive elephants both in temples and those that are privately owned, which too is a gross violation of both PCA Act and Rajasthan HC’s order.

Blind ElephantHousing Conditions and Facilities: Section 42 of Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972 says, “….. Provided that before issuing the certificate of ownership in respect of any captive animal, the Chief Wild Life Warden shall ensure that the applicant has adequate facilities for housing, maintenance and upkeep of the animal”. This is applicable to temples also. But in most places as we have seen in previous sections in this series, captive elephants are not provided with adequate facilities and conditions required for their proper housing, maintenance and upkeep.

Elephant chainedAlso, subsequent to the ban on elephants in zoos in 2009, the Stakeholders Consultative Meeting of Central Zoo Authority on “Elephant Upkeep in Zoos” held on 18 March 2013 gave permission to a few stakeholders (zoos) to keep elephants provided they adhere to the norms as specified by the Central Zoo Authority. The Authority specified a provision of not less than 1.2 acre of area for each elephant. This area is a minimum requirement for a Schedule 1 Wildlife animal like the elephant to behave naturally and lead a natural life.

But as far as captive elephants are concerned, they are provided with only cramped, ill-ventilated, dark and unhygienic, concrete shelters without proper drainage facilities. This again is a gross violation leading to enormous suffering of captive elephants.

Medical Care and Treatment: Section 3 of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 says, It shall be the duty of every person having the care or charge of any animal to take all reasonable measures to ensure the well-being of such animal and to prevent the infliction upon such animal of unnecessary pain or suffering”.

But in reality, as we have seen already, captive elephants suffer from cataract of the eyes (sometimes even blindness), wounds and abscesses (with blood and pus oozing out) on footpads, wounds on legs and body, weakness, obesity, diarrhea, arthritis, fractures and tuberculosis, etc. In some places such ailments result in the death of elephants. Captive elephants are not provided with the required medical care and treatment which again is a gross violation of law.

Records and Registers: As per the Tamil Nadu Captive Elephants – Management and Maintenance – Rules 2011, every owner of the elephant shall maintain the following records and registers and such records and registers shall be produced before the officers authorized by Government in this behalf for inspection at such time as may be called for:

(a) Certificate of ownership Register.

(b) Health Register (1) Vaccination Record (2) Diseases and treatment Record 

(c) Movement Register

(d) Feeding Register

(e) Work Register

 (f) Health Registers of mahout and cavady (assistant mahout).

(g) Register of salary disbursement.

But, almost all owners of captive elephants are irresponsible in maintaining these records and registers. 

Violation of Rules at will: Tamil Nadu Captive Elephants – Management and Maintenance – Rules 2011 has prescribed various rules and guidelines for Possession of Elephants  (License or Ownership Certificate), Housing Conditions, Care of Elephants, Feeding of elephants, Workload for elephants, Mahouts and Cavadys, Norms and Standards for Transportation, Retirement of Elephants, Records and Registers, Cutting of Tusks, Acts which are tantamount to cruelty to elephants, Aged elephants, Welfare Committees and Dos and Don’ts for General Public.

However, it is an ugly fact that most of the above said rules and regulations are violated with impunity and the various government departments are aware of it. It is unfortunate that the authorities are hand in glove with the violators in many places. The corruption which has taken deep roots in Forest Department and other government bodies which own or are responsible for elephants, is causing immense damage to the welfare of elephants.

Cases in Courts

Chennai High Court extended the mandate of the Inspection Committee, constituted by it to inspect cows and goshalas in temples, to elephants also. Subsequently the inspection committee gave its reports to the High Court during subsequent court hearings in the case.

The issue of cruel treatment of captive elephants has been raised in public forums and cases have also been filed in various courts in states such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra. A case has been filed in Supreme Court also. Let us see some of the significant cases and court orders

Vinay KoreMaharashtra

Male elephant Sundar has been serving in Jyothiba Temple, Kolhapur, Maharashtra since 2007 when he was 8 years old. Sundar was donated to the temple by Vinay Kore, MLA. Sundar was unfortunate to get an inexperienced mahout, Jameel, who treated him very cruelly. The international animal rights organization, PETA, lodged a complaint with the forest department of Maharashtra.

Meanwhile, as the temple authorities received many complaints about Jameel, they removed him and appointed another immature 18-year-old mahout, Hyder Abu Bakkar, and an assistant mahout, Ateef. They also treated Sundar cruelly. Without nutritious food and proper medical treatment, Sundar continued to suffer.

Subsequently, officials of the forest department along with veterinarians visited Kolhapur and inspected Sunder in August 2012. They found that Sundar was weak; lost weight; had wounds and scars all over his body; a festering abscess near his ear caused by frequent use of the banned bull-hooked ankush; legs had wounds because of chains. They confirmed that Sundar was physically and psychologically abused and tortured by the mahout and his assistant. Thereafter, the Chief Conservator of Forests, Nagpur Division, was ordered to shift Sundar to the rehabilitation center in Karnataka. PETA offered to bear the transportation expenses. However, due to political pressure, the order was not implemented.

Officials from the Central Zoo Authority visited Kolhapur and inspected Sundar in October 2012. Their report was submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, which issued an interim order to shift Sundar to a rehabilitation center in Karnataka until final order was issued. Even after that, Sundar was not shifted.

Misusing his political clout, Vinay Kore took Sundar from Kolhapur to his private place in Varananagar. Sundar’s misery continued unabated.

As the two orders to shift Sundar were not implemented, PETA filed a petition in Mumbai High Court praying for an order to shift Sundar to Karnataka. It also prayed for stringent punishment for those officials who had not carried out their government’s orders.

In the meantime, PETA began a public campaign with celebrities like Paul McCartney, Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit, Pamela Anderson, Arjun Rampal, Madhavan and Gulshan Grover, to create awareness about Sundar’s plight and put pressure on the authorities to act immediately to free Sundar from captivity.

Vinay Kore petitioned the High Court praying for the cancellation of orders. After hearing the case on 6 April 2014, the Bombay High Court ordered shifting of Sundar to the rehabilitation center in Karnataka and specified that the shifting must be done before the onset of monsoon.

Vinay Kore appealed against the order in the Supreme Court, but the apex Court upheld the High Court’s order on 21 May 2014.

Finally, Sundar was shifted to Bannarghatta National Park in Bengaluru. When he arrived at the national park, he was welcomed by about 13 elephants and they accompanied him to Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. Now, Sundar’s injuries have begun to heal and his physical and emotional health shows improvement.

Karnataka

Bengaluru based CUPA (Compassion Unlimited Plus Action) petitioned the Karnataka High Court in February 2013, praying for prohibition of use of elephants in any form of begging, performance or procession; it also prayed to declare all NOCs and permissions given for transport of elephants to be used for such purposes as illegal and violation of Section 43 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972.

Admitting the petition, the Karnataka High Court directed the concerned authorities to formulate rules and guidelines for such prohibition in consultation with all concerned in the matter.

In another case, initiating a suo motu Public Interest Litigation of a news report by The Hindu in 2008 that 25 elephants had died in six months around Bandhipur-Nagarhole National Park, the Karnataka High Court directed the authorities to submit a comprehensive report. Subsequently the government submitted a report and action plan titled “Elephant Landscape” on 11 March 2009. Then again it filed a comprehensive action plan for conservation and protection of elephants on 17 April 2009.

During subsequent hearings, the High Court constituted the Karnataka Elephant Task Force on 24 January 2012 with specific Terms of Reference. The task force submitted its report and recommendations in September 2012. Then on 8 October 2013, the High Court directed the government to take into consideration the recommendations given by the task force and act accordingly. It also ordered the government to implement the recommendations given by the task force for the welfare of captive elephants.

Madras High CourtTamil Nadu 

The Chennai High Court had a sitting on 22 July 2016, to hear the status reports of its committee constituted for the inspection of cows and elephants in temples. The committee was constituted after hearing the PIL filed by animal activist Radha Rajan.

Appearing for the petitioner Senior Advocate Sathish Parasaran argued, “The forest department must handover wildlife to temples only after ensuring that the temple authorities would be able to take care and manage them as per the Wildlife Protection Act. If micro chips are inserted in the body of elephants, their movements can be monitored. But the forest department does not have scanners. So, honourable High Court should direct the government to equip forest department with scanners and other needed equipments. The High Court should also order the government to constitute welfare committees to supervise the care and management of cows, elephants and calves in temples”.

Additional Advocate General P.H. Arvind Pandian, who appeared for the government, submitted that a state level committee had been formed as per the GO issued on 20 July, and that, it would take at least two months to form district-wise committees.

The plight of elephant Gomathi which is housed in Thiruvidaimaruthur Mahalingaswami Temple also came up for hearing. The HC bench heard the advocate who appeared for the temple management. After hearing arguments, the HC Bench gave the following directions:

Forest Department officials must ensure strict implementation of Indian Wildlife Protection Act. They should also check in person the care given to the temple elephants and how they are managed by the temple authorities. The micro chip aspect must also be looked into by the authorities.

Animal Welfare Board of India must inspect the present health condition of Thiruvidaimaruthur temple elephant Gomathi, and file a report.

The HC posted the case for further hearing to 7 October.

The direction given to the forest department with regards to the insertion of micro chips on elephants is very significant. The government can no more abdicate its responsibilities and should ensure that the forest department is equipped with scanners and other equipments.

Readers may recall the case of 58 years old captive elephant Lakshmi in Pazhani discussed previously. When Lakshmi was freed from captivity and shifted to a treatment center, the details found in the microchip were different from the details found in the ownership certificate produced by Lakshmi’s owner. While the ownership certificate bore one number of the microchip, the microchip in elephant Lakshmi when scanned, showed another number. This could mean only one thing. Elephant Lakshmi was not ‘Lakshmi’ because her owner had violated the Wildlife Act which bans trading in Wildlife and wildlife parts. Having bought the elephant illegally, this man also bought the ownership certificate issued by the Forest Department to another owner for another elephant. The original elephant had probably died but instead of informing the Forest Department of the death and surrendering the ownership certificate, this man sold it to Lakshmi’s owner, probably for a hefty amount.

Had the concerned licensing authority (Forest Department official) monitored all captive elephants in his district at least once in six months, this fraud of selling ownership certificates would be impossible.

One thing is clear—who is responsible for captive elephants—the central government, state government, forest department, HR&CE? No one seems willing to accept responsibility for captive elephants but all wish to use them abusively in human interest.

(To be continued)     

» B. R. Haran is a senior journalist in Chennai

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

Elephants in Tamil Nadu

B. R. HaranFor the issue of captivity of elephants in circuses, temples and places owned by private persons, a solution is not possible without analyzing the reasons for their death and suffering. If the reasons are identified, it would be possible to arrive at a lasting solution by taking the required steps thereby ensuring the welfare of elephants. In the main, elephants in captivity suffer from loneliness; lack of nutritious food; lack of infrastructure; torture by mahout; and lack of proper medical care. – B. R. Haran

Elephant at the Kundrakudi Murugan Temple

Loneliness 

The elephant is not a domestic animal and cannot be domesticated. It is a forest-dwelling animal, a Schedule 1 animal protected under the Wildlife Protection Act. Elephants live in herds and as a huge family. Among animals which live on land, the elephant is as intelligent as humans, with high cognitive abilities; they have a very high sense of belonging to a family and family relations come to the fore when they rear an infant through infancy, childhood and adolescence until they become adult elephants.

Mother-child bonding, and herd responsibility towards the newborn is very strong. Elephant herds are matriarchal where female elephants have a special standing. Elephants have a highly developed mother, daughter, sister, aunt bonding. That is why a female elephant is always surrounded by other elephants during pregnancy, child-birth and after child-birth.

The first atrocity committed by man on an elephant is separating the calf from its mother and family and keeping it isolated. The elephants in most of the temples and private places have been poached (or bought) after separating them from their families when they were 4 or 5 years old. Having been separated from their mothers and families, the young elephants get affected psychologically, and grow up with the same feeling of isolation compounded by a sense of alienation.

The owners may presume that it has got used to its loneliness in course of time, but the fact remains that the elephant yearns for love, affection and companionship of its kind for the rest of its life in captivity; deprived of all social relationships with other elephants even their primal needs are left unsatisfied. While tuskers in the wild and in musth are rarely violent, captive tuskers during musth turn violent because they are forcefully restrained by chains and human brutality from fulfilling the basic natural instinct to mate.

Wild elephant dies after capture

Lack of nutritious food

As elephant is wildlife, it requires a huge area of flora and fauna with lots of trees, plants, greens and various types of crops. They have the habit of going from one place to another, eating whatever they get on the way. They keep traveling for days, months and years and return by the same way as they have a great memory. Such routes are called “Elephant Corridors”. On an average, elephants spend 16 hours in gathering food. As their digestive capacity is limited (only 40% of what is eaten gets digested), they have to consume far more than they can actually digest. An adult elephant can eat food weighing between 140 kgs to 270 kgs. Elephants eat various kinds of food such as leaves, trunks, greens, roots, beets, tubers, fruits, vegetables and crops.

Those who separate a calf from a happy and independently foraging group do not feed it with such nutritious food. As far as temple elephants are concerned, the temple management has always been indifferent. The authorities leave the responsibility of feeding the elephant to the mahouts, but do not monitor the mahout and the elephant’s routine, including feeding routine. The mahouts are mostly irresponsible and insincere, and do not attend to the actual requirements of the elephant. They do not even keep a track of the stock inventory of the various foods needed to feed the elephant and do not take the lack of stock situations to the notice of concerned officials.

For their part, the temple officials do not keep in touch with the mahouts and arrange for the procurement of the required food items. Food registers are not maintained properly. Mostly the elephants are fed with grass and coconut leaves with very small quantity of rice, ragi and maize. Fruits and vegetables are given in less quantity only.

Temple elephants have another peculiar problem of getting food from devotees who visit the temple. The devotees like to feed the elephants and invariably bring only bananas, coconuts and biscuits. As the elephants consume more of these three items, their health gets affected. Due to lack of nutritious food, they become weak and ultimately end up with various kinds of ill-health and sickness. It is an unfortunate truth that elephants suffer due to the indifference and irresponsibility of mahouts and temple officials, despite the temples earning huge revenue.

As for elephants in private captivity, they have to eat whatever the owner gives. They do not have any other opportunity to eat other kinds of nutritious food. Temple elephants have a different source in devotees, but private elephants do not have any other source. We have already seen in the cases of privately owned elephants like Ammu, Lakshmi and Faseela that private owners are incapable of feeding nutritious food to elephants which is why many elephants fall sick and die due to weakness, obesity, arthritis and various other problems.

Captive elephants suffer due to lack of nutritious food.

Elephant with wounds on front legs from chains

Lack of infrastructure

Most elephant shelters in circuses, temples and private places are sans convenience and other basic amenities. Being wildlife, the elephant can adapt and accommodate itself only in a forest-like environment. Even if forests, rivers and large fields are not available, it should at least have a few acres of land with flora and fauna and plenty of water. They love water and swim well. They suck water through their trunks and splash it on themselves enjoying the chilled bath. Similarly they enjoy a sand bath and mud bath and take these baths quite often to protect their soft skin from heat and sun-rays. In temples and private places, captive elephants are deprived of such facilities for their entire life, which has serious repercussions on their health.

As we have seen, elephants can only adapt to natural surfaces for standing and walking. They need grasslands or sandy surfaces as their foot-pads are very soft and thin. As they have straight and long legs and large foot-pads, they can stand for hours together. But they find it difficult to stand or walk for hours together on cement, concrete and granite surfaces. Temple authorities and private owners wrongly assume that the elephants get accustomed to such hard surfaces in course of time and fail to keep watch on the foot-pads of elephants. That is why the legs and foot-pads of captive elephants get affected easily and quickly. They suffer with pain, swelling, injuries and rotting, abscesses and wounds with pus and blood oozing out of them (which is how Koodal Azhagar Temple elephant Maduravalli and private captive elephant Ammu in Pazhani died).

Elephant is a large animal with an average height of 3 meters and weight 6000 kilograms. Hence it needs plenty of exercise. As it is wildlife, it can walk long distances through fields, forests, rivers along hilly terrains, which is great exercise. As noted, it spends 16 hours daily for gathering food and enjoys sand baths and water baths. Its natural environment provides excellent conditions for exercise. But, in temples and private places, there is absolutely no exercise for them, or even space for walking. Forcing them to circumambulate the temple once or twice a day or taking them for a walk on tar roads is not an exercise but torture.

Elephants are made to walk from one town to another, which traumatizes them. It is atrocious that Forest Department officials permit this. An elephant cannot walk hundreds of kilometers on tarred surfaces. That would immediately result in injuries on its foot-pads. The owners obtain permits on grounds that they are taking the elephants for temple festivals, while actually they use them for begging, which the authorities know fully well.

Due to non-availability of water bodies, captive elephants are given water bath only through water hose. Hosepipes are used to bathe elephants in some temples. Elephants need to be bathed at least twice a day, but in many places they are either bathed only once a day or once in two or three days! Deprivation of sand bath and mud bath leads to skin infections. Elephants need mud baths, splashing in water, throwing mud on their bodies, because like dogs, elephants too do not have sweat glands to release heat from their bodies. When there are no ponds or rivers close to temples, and when temple authorities and mahouts do not bathe the elephants at least twice a day, it leads to grave health issues.

Being forest animals, elephants need to enjoy fresh air in natural and forest-like environment. Captive elephants are deprived of such an environment. They are just provided with shelters which are cramped, dirty, unhygienic, ill-ventilated and located in crowded areas. This causes infections and serious communicable diseases contracted via physical contact with humans. Captive elephants are in physical contact with their mahouts and the hundreds of devotees they are forced to bless for money.

Tamil Nadu being a state with a good elephant population, it lacks having the required number of rehabilitation centers. Indeed, India as a whole doesn’t have the requisite number of rehabilitation centers. Even in the available government forest camps, temple and other captive elephants are not admitted for fear of possible spread of communicable diseases. The Tamil Nadu government refused to house elephant Gomathi in the natural environs of Vandalur zoo citing fear of communicable diseases from captive elephants spreading to animals residing in the zoo. Sick elephants are given treatment in their own places. The government must pay serious attention to this important issue.

Elephant with mahout in Tamil Nadu

Mahout's Ankush

Torture by mahouts

Another important reason for the pain and suffering experienced by captive elephants is the cruel treatment meted out to them by the mahouts. Mahouts are in total physical custody of captive elephants and play a very big role in the health and well-being of the elephant in their charge. So behind every neglected elephant there is always an abusive mahout.

There is a psychological aspect here. The mahouts have a mindset that they have to keep the elephants always under their control. They feel that elephants which do not fear the mahouts, would not be obedient and would be difficult to control. So they keep them chained, often use the ankush (goad) and beat them with sticks while walking and bathing them. Most ankush used by the mahouts have sharp bull-hooks. The ankush is a banned instrument but every temple, every mahout, has it and all mahouts use it both covertly and publicly.

Elephants are intelligent; have extraordinary hearing and smelling (sniffing) senses. They are self-conscious and can easily recognize and understand what is being shown to them. Instead of treating such intelligent animals with love and affection, the mahouts treat them cruelly just to keep them always in a state of fear.

In truth, the mahouts fear elephants as the animals are huge and strong. Hence they prefer to keep them under control, using brutal methods to break the elephant in body and spirit. Most mahouts are alcoholic, to hide their fear of elephants. Under the influence of alcohol, they tend to be crueller to the elephants.

As most mahouts are alcoholic, they are always in need of money to cater to their needs, and so use the elephants for begging. For this, they keep the hapless animals standing for hours together on cement or concrete or granite surfaces and also shift the animals from one place to another by making them walk on tarred roads. They do not feed them with the required nutritious food. This happens with most elephants under captivity of private owners.  Even temple elephants suffer the same fate as temple authorities do not intervene when mahouts take even temple elephants for begging. So naturally, the elephants suffer ill-health.

The number of properly trained mahouts who have a clear understanding of the gentle characteristics of elephants is very less. The Forest Department of Tamil Nadu has only 39 mahouts in service. Other mahouts in the state belong to families of “traditional” mahouts, in the sense that they hail from a family of mahouts. This is nothing but a tradition of cruelty. From birth, these mahouts see only “captive elephants” and how they are “treated”. The last two to three generations, including the present one, are such mahouts only. They have wooden hearts and do not hesitate to beat and torture the elephants.

Mahouts are responsible for the arrangements needed to be made for regular medical checkup and treatment of elephants. As they are with them throughout the day, they have to inform the concerned authorities when elephants suffer injuries or other ailments, so that proper medical treatment is taken up immediately. Moreover, mahouts must organize monthly medical checkups and maintain a medical register recording the regular checkups and treatments given. But mahouts do not focus on this at all.

Temple elephant wearing shoes to protect feet in Salem

Lack of proper medical treatment

A significant reason for the pain, suffering and ultimate death of captive elephants is the absence of required timely medical treatment and qualified veterinarians. The Tamil Nadu Animal Husbandry Department focuses only on the cattle industry, dairy development, poultry and fisheries. For cattle, the department focuses only on hybrid and Jersey breeds and not native breeds. It focuses on increasing revenue through dairy (Aavin Milk) development, beef industry, poultry and fisheries, and implementing schemes for the welfare of the farmers involved in those trades.

The beef industry earns huge revenue for the state. The Tamilnadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (TANUVAS) has a department, Department of Livestock Products Technology, exclusively for Meat Science. This department has two courses namely, LPT 312 Abattoir Practices and Animal Products Technology and LP 321 Meat Science Animal By-Products Technology. 

There are only 8 Colleges under TANUVAS, of which one is College of Food and Dairy Technology and another two are Institute of Poultry Production and Management and Post Graduate Research Institute in Animal Sciences. The remaining four cater to Veterinary and Research. A few private medical colleges have veterinary sciences departments.

The Tamil Nadu Veterinary Council comes under the Animal Husbandry, Dairy and Fisheries Department of the State Government. The Council has 5351 Veterinarians registered as of August 2013, but it is not clear how many are employed by Forest Department and Animal Husbandry, Dairy and Fisheries Department.

What is happening in reality is that those who complete graduation and post-graduation in the above mentioned eight colleges prefer to join Government service as they get good salary. Most are appointed in the offices of Dairy Development, Poultry Development and Meat Industry. Those who do not get Government appointments join private hospitals or start their own clinics.

For our understanding, let us divide veterinary science into three divisions namely, treatment for small animals (dog, cat, goats, pigs, chicken, etc.), treatment for large animals (cattle, horses, etc.) and treatment for wildlife (elephants, lions, and tigers etc.). Unfortunately, we have very few veterinarians with experience and expertise to treat wildlife. The Forest Department of Tamil Nadu has only five doctors. Three are stationed in Arignar Anna Wildlife Sanctuary in Vandalur near Chennai, and the remaining two have to take care of the animals in the other sanctuaries in the State.

In such a situation, it would only be a remote possibility for elephants in temples and private places to get timely and quality treatment if they fall sick or get injured. Even if some locally available veterinarians are summoned, they do not have the expertise and experience to treat wildlife, particularly elephants. Ultimately the captive elephants suffer due to lack of proper treatment leading to prolonged illness and delayed recuperation. Sometimes, the condition results in death.

(To be continued…)   

» B. R. Haran is a senior journalist in Chennai and consulting editor for Uday India.

Dead Bull Elephant

Elephants killed by electric fences in Tamil Nadu (2015)

Whether UPA or NDA, discrimination against Hindus and Hindu temples continues – Kanimozhi

Padmanabhaswamy Temple Gopuram

Lady ReporterWhy should government control Hindu temples, while churches and mosques are given a free hand? Why is the government spending, tax-payers’ money towards churches and masjids, while diverting most of the money collected from temples into non-temple, non-Hindu activities? – Kanimozhi

There are as many as 2,07,000 temples in Karnataka and the total income of these temples amounts to Rs 72 crore. Only a sum of Rs. 6 crore is being spent by the Government for their upkeep. On the other hand, the Government spent a phenomenal amount of Rs. 50 crore for the madrasas and Rs. 10 crore for the churches,” Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said in 2003.

That was when S. M. Krishna of Congress was the chief minister of Karnataka. In the last 13 years, while the income from the temples has doubled, and the amount spent towards madrasas and churches has also doubled, the amount spent on the upkeep of the temples has remained the same. During these 13 years, Janata Dal (S) and the BJP were in power between 2006 and 2013 and the Congress is in power since then, but the condition of temples continues to remain pitiful.

Here are some key-facts from a 2003 article by Anjali Patel, which are dated but still relevant today:

  • 70% (Rs. 50 crores) of Hindu temples’ money is diverted for Muslim madarasas and haj by Indian Government.
  • 5,000 temples in Karnataka were to be closed down due to lack of funding and maintenance.
  • During Kumbh Mela in Nasik, each Hindu devotee was forced to pay Rs. 25 to Rs. 50 for a dip in the holy water. Congress, BJP and Shiv Sena said nothing about this (while giving money to Muslims and Christians).
  • If a Hindu or a Sikh wishes to visit holy places in Kailash Mansarovar or Gurudwara in Pakistan, leave alone subsidy, they are forced to shell out large amounts of money to visit their holy places, while Muslims enjoy massive 70% subsidy for their visit to haj in Saudi Arabia, which is paid from the pockets of taxpaying Hindus. The gross income of TTD for the year (2014-15) is estimated to be Rs. 2359.2 crores ($385.33 mn)

The issue here is not just about the government misusing the funds collected from the temples, or taxpayers’ money being spent on subsidizing religious travel of a particular community, the issue is much beyond that.

But, let us first understand the difference between Hindu temples and the places of worship belonging to other religions.

Dr. Subramanian SwamyAccording to Dr. Subramanian Swamy, as he explains very clearly in this video (see below), the temples are the places of inhabitance of our Gods, and not simply a place to offer prayers. The construction of a temple and the subsequent installation of the idol involves processes called prana pratishta, by which the very presence of Gods are established within the premises of the temples and thus, the temples become the abode of the Gods. On the other hand, a mosque or a church, is simply a place to offer namaz or prayers, respectively, and they have no conception of these places as being the very abode of God.

Most Hindu temples have a rich story to tell and during ancient times they were also utilized as places of learning. But, today, it is disheartening to see, how temples have transformed from being places of learning to being commercial complexes, from which government is pocketing crores of rupees as income every year. The ground situation for adherents of Hinduism has become critical over the last seven decades, mainly due to political interference and politics of discrimination and appeasement. Though, India got independence in 1947, and the constitution guarantees Right to Religion, it appears that the implementation has catered to the needs of all communities, except the Hindus. This is especially troubling, since India is a Hindu-majority nation.

The successive governments and political masters, need to answer why this discrimination against Hindus? Why should government control Hindu temples, while churches and mosques are given a free hand? Why is the government spending, tax-payers’ money towards churches and masjids, while diverting most of the money collected from temples into non-temple, non-Hindu activities?

If only the Hindu community is given back the control of the temples and their activities, then the money collected from the temples could be utilized for so many community oriented, religious, cultural, and educational activities.

Hindu temples are not the sacred places that they should be, because, they are not under the control of Hindu community. The income from most of the Hindu Temples, the offerings by the devotees, etc. goes to the government treasury and become government revenue and hence, the Hindu community has no say as to how the temple money is utilized. Prior to 1925, the Sikh Gurdwaras were in control of Udasi mahants, who were largely perceived as corrupt and degenerate from the mainline Sikhs. The Sikhs fought hard and forced the British to pass a law, which brought the administration of Gurdwaras under the control of an elected body of the Sikh people. That law is the Sikh Gurdwaras Act 1925. That law has worked exceptionally well and has satisfied the Sikhs’ desire of being in control of their Gurdwaras and overseeing them as per the group’s mandate. This is one of the best examples that Hindus can emulate.

Sri Siddhivinayak TempleTemple statistics

The government takeover of temples has resulted in several state governments running full-length ministries for the management of various activities of those temples. The erstwhile Andhra Pradesh government, for instance, employed 77,000 people to ensure “smooth conducting of pujas” in its 33,000 temples. Similar numbers could be found in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. Ministries for management of temples are present in some north Indian temples as well. This is one of the immense incongruities of Indian secularism is that a vocally non-religious government sees no contradiction in overseeing Hindu sanctuaries, and just Hindu temples.

Such systematized oppression and discrimination against the majority community, which constitute around 80% of the population of the country, is without parallel on the entire planet. Some Hindu sampradayas, for example, the Ramakrishna Math and Mission have even attempted to claim “minority” status so as to preserve their institutions from government interference. This continuing grip of the government over administration of Hindu sanctuaries is not only an infringement of the religious rights of the Hindus, but has also resulted in massive corruption and abuse of assets. Add to this, the government’s apathy and utter disregard towards the sacredness and sanctity of the temples.Add to this, the utter disregard and contempt shown towards the sacredness and sanctity of the temples.

In 1980s, the then Kerala chief minister K. Karunakaran had ordered the Guruvayur Temple to transfer 10 crore rupees from its bank account to the state treasury to offset financial deficit. Whether the amount was ever returned or not is doubtful. What’s more, the temple’s property was reduced from 13000 acres of land to a meagre 230 acres of land by the Land Reforms Act (pdf), which helpfully avoided non-Hindu foundations. In 2004, the Maharashtra government admitted to diverting US$ 190,000 from Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak temple to a charity run by a politician, in the Bombay High Court. In Tamil Nadu, the HR&CE Department controls more than 4.7 lakh acres of land of horticultural area, 2.6 crore square feet of structures and 29 crore square feet of urban place that is known for temples. The earning from these properties must be at least few thousand crore rupees, yet the government collects a meagre Rs 36 crore in rent. This is a classic case of corruption and underhanded dealings.

Politically influential people have shamelessly appropriated temple property for individual use. A friend of mine narrates how a representative from the Tamil Nadu HR&CE Department would arrive at one of the small temples in the state to collect the money deposited in the temple hundi and would pocket a part of it for his personal use. Petty corruption, underhanded dealings, and misuse of temple assets are rampant in the government administration of the temples.

Ram Lalla VirajmanAyodhya, Will a temple be built there ever?

Ayodhya is among the most sacred places for Hindus across the country. According to Hindu Itihasa (history) texts, Lord Rama was born, brought up, and ruled from Ayodhya. But, for the last many decades Ram Janmabhumi has been in the middle of political dispute. The dispute traces its origin to the destruction of the Hindu temple in Ayodhya and construction of a mosque in its place during the reign of Babar of Moghul dynasty in the 16th century. The recent excavations in the area have also confirmed the presence of a Hindu temple beneath the demolished Babri mosque. Yet, a new temple for Lord Ram is yet to see the light. Though, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy has expressed a certainty that such a temple will be built soon, it remains to be seen how much of his assertion will materialize on the ground.

Conclusion

It is high time that Hindus realize that their government is discriminating against them in the name of secularism. Income from Hindu temples should be spent on those very temples and on activities that enrich Hindu community and propagate Hindu religion. For this, it is vital that temples are freed from government control and are instead managed by the community. Hopefully, the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear today, the petition of late Swami Dayananda Saraswati to free temples from government control, will be able to address these genuine concerns of the Hindu community. IndiaFacts, 13 July 2016

» Kanimozhi is a NRI living in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. She is an engineering electro-mechanical consultant and the founder of the Kurukshetra2019.com web portal. 

Venkateshwara Temple Tirumala

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

Elephant Mariappan of Samayapuram

B. R. HaranWe now turn to see how captive elephants experience a life of isolation, pain and suffering due to lack of infrastructure and the cruelty and torture perpetrated by mahouts, which often lead to their deaths. – B. R. Haran

Samayapuram Mariamman Temple Elephant 

‘Mariappan’ was a male elephant serving at the famous Mariamman Temple at Samayapuram near Trichy. Temple authorities have kept him chained by three legs since 2002; the chains were ‘oxidised’, that is, a bit poisonous and they affect the legs of elephants. Mariappan could not move a single step in any direction. He was maintained so until 2011. His sufferings made local people and animal rights activists protest, after which his shackles were removed and he was shifted to Arignar Anna Zoological Park in Vandalur near Chennai.

His suffering led to the formulation of the Tamil Nadu Captive Elephants (Management and Maintenance) Rules, 2011 (pdf).

Elephant Andal at the Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam

Srirangam Temple Elephant 

The infrastructure at Srirangam Temple is so bad that the shelter provided to female elephant ‘Andal’ is of poor quality. It is unhygienic, dirty and one can find unused utensils garbage inside her shelter. She stands in her own urine and dung and she is fed in the same place. Her legs are also tied up with oxidized chains. The shelter has been divided in to two portions and the other portion is used by the mahout.

Elephant Parvathi at the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple

Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple Elephant

Female elephant ‘Parvathi’ serves in Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple. Her small shelter is not properly ventilated and there is no fan, no free air circulation. Her legs are also tied with oxidized chains. Construction materials are dumped inside and occupy a considerable amount of space in her shelter.

The temple also keeps a camel, which looks lean and frail. It stands on an unhygienic place, has a lot of injuries and raw open wounds all over its body.

The AWBI representative was resisted by temple officials while taking photographs.

 Elephant Akila of the Jambukeswarar Temple at Thiruvanaikaval

Thiruvanaikkaval Temple Elephant

Female elephant ‘Akila’ serving in the famous Thiruvanaikkaval Temple, near Trichy, is 13 years old. Her mahout cares for her very well. A group of ‘Sivan Adiyars’ (Shaivite bhaktas) visit the temple daily and help in the maintenance of goshala and the elephant.

However the infrastructure is not good. Akila’s shelter is poorly maintained. Construction materials and wastage are spotted around the shelter, and it has a poorly maintained thatched roof. HR & CE Rules have also been violated.

Elephant Devayanai of the Murugan Temple at Thiruchendur

Thiruchendur Temple Elephant

The Thiruchendur Murugan Temple, where the male elephant ‘Kumaran’ died a painful death, also has the services of a female elephant, ‘Devayanai’. Her three legs are chained. The concrete floor is very rough and unsuited for an elephant. The mahout uses stones to rub and clean her skin while bathing her, causing it to pale in some places. Pigmentation and injury marks are seen on her legs and body.

Elephant Dharmambal of Thiruvaiyaru

Thiruvaiyaru Temple Elephant

Female elephant ‘Dharmambal’, 43, serves in Aiyarappan Temple, Thiruvaiyaru. Her legs are chained; she is not being fed properly and she has lost weight and looks very weak. Wrinkles are seen on her face and body, which makes her look very old. Her shelter is not adequate and rules are violated.

Elephant Kalyani at Patteeswaram

Patteeswaram Temple Elephant

Patteeswaram, near Kumbakonam is very famous for its Durga Temple. ‘Kalyani’ is a female elephant serving there. She is provided with a concrete shelter and her legs are chained. Injury marks are visible on her legs. After returning from the Thekkampatti Rejuvenation Camp held in January 2016, scratches and injury marks caused by glass bottles are seen all over her body.

Her shelter is located adjacent to the main road. So, she has to suffer the hustle and bustle of perennial traffic snarls. Although the mahout is employed on daily wages, he takes care of her well. However, the shelter provided to her has violated HR & CE Rules.

Elephant Gomathi of the Mahalingaswami Temple in Thiruvidaimarudur

Thiruvidaimarudur Temple Elephant

‘Gomathi’ is a female elephant serving in the famous Mahalingaswami Temple in Thiruvidaimarudur, near Kumbakonam. Her mahout is merciless and has been torturing her from the beginning. Gomathi, undergoing pain and suffering at his hands, was so traumatized that she trampled upon a bhakta once, in a fit of rage, 2009. Since then, she has been kept chained in a hell hole.

This has irregular concrete flooring which slopes from both the sides with a horizontal space of just two feet in the middle. Her legs are chained and the chains are less than one foot in length. So, she cannot move either backward or forward. She cannot move sideways and if at all she attempts to move sideways, she will slide down and injure herself as the floor slopes from both sides. There are just two small windows which do not bring the required sunlight. Gomathi has been living like this for most part of the day since 2009!

Although the temple authorities feel she has been affected mentally, they have not bothered to take any steps for her treatment or rehabilitation. The mahout’s torture continues as the temple management has not bothered to restrain him. The HR & CE Department, which earns huge revenue from the temple, has demanded Rs. 3 lakhs from Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam Mutt, which maintains the temple, to shift Gomathi to the forest department. The Adheenam, which has 10 big temples under its management, says it cannot afford so much money.

Committee member Radha Rajan visited Mahalingaswami Temple on her inspection tour. Shocked at the hell hole, she called Gomathi passionately through the grills of the iron gate; Gomathi, alone and suffering in the dark, banged her head against the wall and kept banging. Here is a gentle being yearning for love and affection for years, banging her head against the wall on hearing a passionate call!

Privately-owned Elephant at Samayapuram

Captive Elephants with Private Owners   

Apart from circus houses and temples, elephants are in captivity with some private owners also. We were surprised to see the ‘status’ of such private owners and cannot understand how they are able to feed and maintain such a huge animal. We do not know if they have acres of lands growing sugarcane and maize, or, they keep elephants by feeding just a handful of baby corn. It is a paradox how they get to own an elephant!

Let us see a few cases of how these gentle giants are maintained by private owners.

Privately-owned Elephant at Samayapuram

Privately-owned elephant at Samayapuram

Samayapuram

A private elephant was seen in front of Samayapuram Temple, with the mahout using it for begging in the hot sun. While the elephant was standing on the burning cement road, the mahout sat on a stool under the elephant’s belly enjoying the shade given by the huge animal. Just for pretense, he had put some coconut leaves for the elephant to eat. The ship-owners nearby said that the elephant is kept standing for more than 8 hours daily only to beg.

As it was kept chained all through the day, severe injuries were seen on the legs and raw wounds seen all over the body. As per Rule 15 of the Tamil Nadu Captive Elephants (Management and Maintenance) Rules2011, HR & CE is vested with the responsibility to monitor privately owned elephants also. But the department has not bothered despite the fact that the elephant has been used for begging right under its nose.

Privately-owned Elephant Faseela at Srirangam

Privately-owned Elephant Faseela at Srirangam

Srirangam 

An elephant named ‘Faseela’, with a mahout on top, was walked from Srirangam to Mayilam Murugan Temple, a distance of 180 kms. The mahout fed the elephant with whatever he could get along the route. The animal’s pain and suffering while walking on the tar road with its soft foot pads on a hot summer day can be imagined.

Ammu of Pazhani

Elephant Ammu of Pazhani

Pazhani 

One Sivakumar owned a female elephant called ‘Ammu’ in Pazhani. Sivakumar is an auto driver by profession. On 14 April 2016, he wrote a letter to the Conservator of Forests, Dindigal Circle, requesting consent for treatment and medical aid for Ammu:

“… I have been in possession of an elephant by name ‘Ammu’ for the past 27 years. The elephant is 46 years old and its Ownership Certificate No is WL/DGL/4/2006. My elephant has been suffering with acute stomach issues over the past many months. It also has many abscesses and wounds. But unfortunately she couldn’t get up one day and the doctor had mentioned bloating in stomach and that she needs to be removed to a medical care facility, but only after she stabilizes and gets up. Kindly grant permission to provide necessary veterinary treatment, since I am unable to look after and provide for its upkeep and maintenance. … I give full consent to the forest department and KSPCA (Kodaikanal Society for Protection and Care for Animals) for her further treatment in Pazhani itself until she stabilizes to be moved to a rehabilitation centre in future….”  

Ammu was kept in dark and gloomy room that is damp, unhygienic, congested, noisy and suffocating. The room, measuring 20 x 20 feet, and located at the end of extremely narrow lanes with dense and tight houses on each side, makes it mandatory for the elephant to squeeze through these narrow channels every time she is taken out and brought in. The flooring is unnatural cement and the room has stone walls and thatched roofs.

Sivakumar, who was using Ammu for begging, had not fed her properly. Although he stated that he was feeding almost 300 kgs of green grass, rice and other supplements, the inspection team could find only little quantity of damp grass. Sivakumar had also not maintained the Food Register which he is supposed to maintain.

Poor maintenance and poor feeding led to severe deterioration in Ammu’s health. She had wounds on her legs due to chaining; and injury marks on her body as she had to rub against the walls while going in and out of her shelter through narrow lanes. Although Sivakumar claimed he had taken Ammu for regular walk and exercises, he had not maintained such records. Sivakumar had maintained a medical book with periodical inspection of veterinary doctors, but the book seemed to contain records/reports which lack authenticity.

Even after Sivakumar was instructed on how to take care of Ammu during the inspection conducted on 23 February 2016, he failed to take care of her and her health started deteriorating further. She was moved to a coconut grove for better living.

Meanwhile, Dr Sakthivel Pandi, assistant director, Animal Husbandry Department, visited Ammu on 10 January, 5 February and 1 March and certified on all the three days that “Ammu is good, normal in health and free from any diseases”. But Ammu fell down on 20 March and Sivakumar didn’t bother to bring the doctor immediately. Dr Pandi visited on 22 March and observed, “Physiological Oedema of udder in Brisket region; F/H normal; Animal unable to lie down for past three days”. He prescribed some medicines and left.

If Ammu was hale and healthy as certified by Dr Pandi until 1 March, how come she suddenly collapsed on 20 March? Did Dr Pandi really check the necessary parameters during his three earlier visits before certifying that Ammu is healthy without any diseases? Is this how senior officers of the Tamil Nadu government’s Animal Husbandry department work?

Later, expert veterinarian Dr Ramachandran, from Madurai, checked Ammu with the aid of KSPCA and gave her the required treatment, because of which she was able to stand up. But, Sivakumar again failed to carry out the instructions and Ammu fell again on 14 April. The same day Sivakumar gave the letter to the Conservator of Forests requesting for further treatment, admitting he was not in a position to take care of Ammu. Alas, Ammu died on 15 April.

How did an auto driver manage to own an elephant? What was the action taken by Chief Wildlife Warden who is responsible for this? What was the action taken by Hr & CE Department, which is supposed to monitor elephants owned by private owners?

See this story on Haran’s Facebook page.

Lakshmi of Pazhani

 Privately-owned Elephant Lakshmi at Palani (Pazhani)

Pazhani 

One Soundarrajan in Pazhani owns a 58-years old elephant named ‘Lakshmi’. He used her to beg near the temple and bus stand for long hours. She never had the required food; no proper medical checks; and in course of time lost weight and became weak. Her skin showed wrinkles; she has wounds all over her body; her legs are swollen and out of shape; nails are broken and the foot pads have big wounds and abscesses with pus coming out with bad smell. The skull bones on her forehead were prominently seen. Even in this condition, Soundarrajan used her for begging.

KSPCA and WRRC took steps to take her to the rehabilitation centre owned by WRRC in Malur, Karnataka with the permission of the Tamil Nadu Forest Department. Unfortunately, Lakshmi was found unfit for travel. WRRC summoned expert veterinarian Dr. Ramachandran to check her condition. He confirmed she was not in a position to travel and suggested she be taken to a nearby place for immediate preliminary treatment, after which she could be shifted to Malur. Lakshmi was shifted to Animal Care Trust in Rajapalayam, where she is receiving the required treatment.

Camel at Madurai Meenakshi Temple

Government’s responsibility

Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972) prescribes strict rules for procuring, keeping and maintaining wildlife animals, and for transporting them from one place to another, from one state to another. As per the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, all wildlife beings are considered as government properties. If at all a private person wants to own a wildlife being, he has to obtain ownership certificate and license from the Chief Wildlife Warden or similar authorized person. The license must be renewed periodically. Besides, other things pertaining to the concerned being like Tusk, Skin, Nails, Hair, etc., including Meat, come under the ambit of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act.

As there are strict and specific rules prescribed in the Act, Chief Wildlife Warden and other officers must grant license only after proper enquiries and investigations. In the course of their enquiries, they should find out if the concerned applicant has the basic knowledge and is capable of taking care of the animal; whether he has the required infrastructure to keep and maintain the animal. They should also find out why the applicant wants to own wildlife.

The concerned licensing authorities must realize that they have certain moral responsibilities for the welfare of the animals. Yet, looking at the profile of the owners of Faseela, Ammu and Lakshmi, and the way they maintained their elephants, it is clear that the Chief Wildlife Warden and other authorities miserably failed in their duty and abdicated their responsibility.

The fact that auto drivers procured licenses to own and maintain an elephant while big temples with huge resources find it difficult to do so, shows how corrupt the system is. The Department of Forests, HR & CE Department, Department of Animal Husbandry—all seem equally callous and corrupt.

(To be continued…)

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

Elephant Ammu with KSPCA staff, police and the mahout