The celebration, apparently, was short-lived.
Just two weeks ago, to the delight of temple elephant activists and followers of Hindu Dharma, Lakshmi, the beloved elephant of the Manakula Vinayakar Temple, Puducherry, returned to her ‘home’—the temple where she had been living for more than two decades.
Following allegations of gross mistreatment at the temple that led to adverse health impacts, PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) India and the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) filed a petition against the temple for violating the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and the Tamil Nadu Captive Elephants (Management and Maintenance) Rules 2011. Thanks to their powerful lobbying in high places, they succeeded in translocating Lakshmi to the Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Kurumamber, a presumably “safer location” for rehabilitation.
However, the unprecedented outrage on social media against the highhandedness of PETA India and the false allegations it brazenly pedalled, resulted in Lakshmi being returned to the temple, thanks to the intervention of the Puducherry Chief Minister, V. Narayanasamy, about a fortnight back.
Yet, to our consternation and dismay, this interlude seems to have been just the proverbial lull after the storm. On August 1, 2020, PETA India filed a petition at the Madras High Court for Lakshmi to be translocated back to the sanctuary (Krishi Vigyan Kendra); “to be set free” in order to help “the ailing elephant” recover. PETA India also alleged that the translocation of Lakshmi from KVK back to the temple was facilitated by widespread pressure from devotees and activists that they consider “illegal, arbitrary and bad in law. ” In doing so, PETA India has arrogated to itself the right to challenge the authority of the chief minister.
Temple elephant welfare activist S. Muralidharan of the Indian Centre for Animal Rights Education (INCARE), Chennai, avers that that the Puducherry Forest Department is trying to enforce the Tamil Nadu Captive Elephants (Management and Maintenance) Rules 2011 to seek custody of Lakshmi the Elephant. According to him, Lakshmi was traumatised by her earlier relocation to the sanctuary as captive elephants are habituated to their domestic surroundings.
In a poignant video, he highlights that Lakshmi experienced a deep sense of calm and joy on returning to her familiar surroundings and even slept restfully after one month! Besides tinkering and tampering with Hindu Dharma traditions, Muralidharan also opposes the move to ban temple elephants and privately owned elephants because of ecological and conservation imperatives.
“The Lakshmi incident and those involving other temple elephants in the country is all about politics and power play at its worst. Powerful politicians, influential people, and wildlife NGOs are in collusion. Their sinister agenda is to take away captive elephants, especially geriatric elephants, to sanctuaries and use them to ‘beg’ for dollars! Elephants after the age of 65 years lose their molars. Gradually, they are unable to chew and therefore die of starvation. This is particularly true of elephants in the wild. The average age of an Indian wild elephant today stands at a pathetic 40 years, which used to be close to 100 years, many years ago. Captive elephants, because they are well fed and looked after, tend to live longer. Captive elephants and their breeding could well be our only lifeline of hope to save the species,” explains Muralidharan.
Meanwhile the Indu Makkal Katchi (IMK) has expressed its strident disapproval at PETA’s interference once again in translocating Lakshmi.
“Its obvious that the forest department and the HR&CE (Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment) Board is in collusion with PETA India. We are warning PETA India it won’t be an online protest this time. We, devotees, will go to any extent for our Lakshmi to be in our temple,” said IMK.
The battle for Lakshmi is all set to begin once again: a sacred battle (dharma yudham) set in an adharmic context (Kurukshetra). Meanwhile, Muralidharan is gearing up for the sacred battle in providing a strong counter narrative to the sanctimonious and anti-Hindu Dharma stand to ban temple elephants on the grounds of so-called “cruelty and ill treatment” in his role as an impleader in the case.
The brazen disregard for traditions and practices of Hindu Dharma, the evangelical zeal and the iconoclastic contempt to bring down cultural edifices is alarming and deeply disturbing.
It is either now or never.
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