At least heed the holy scriptures

| | in Oped

The conditions of elephants remain the same 36 years after Sunderkali's death. Various laws and rules to protect the animals have largely remained on paper

A 54-year old cow elephant, Bijli, collapsed on June 11 on a road in eastern Mumbai. Her pathetic state attracted the attention of many, including super-star Amitabh Bachchan, who appealed to the public through social networking sites to help her. An animal welfare NGO, Animals Matter to Me, arranged for vets specialising in treating elephants, to be flown down from Assam, Agra and Pune to attend to her. Volunteers from another NGO, Resqink Association for Wildlife Welfare, pitched in. Despite all this, Bijli passed into the hereafter on June 30.

Bijli's death reminded me of the tragic case of Sunderkali, another cow elephant, who died in Delhi on July 4, 1977 — exactly 36 years ago from the date of this column's publication. She had fallen and fractured one of her legs and had been lying on the ground for days, before a newspaper reported her plight. I was then editor of The Hindustan Times and, though it was not the first newspaper to report the news, it conducted front-page campaign to have her treated. A team from the Haryana Agricultural University, Hisar, arrived under the leadership of Dr JM Nigam and, through a huge effort, re-set her leg on July 3. Unfortunately, while the surgery was successful, she died the next day of shock and nervousness, as she was being raised to her feet by a crane.

Sunderkali, the Central Government decided, would live as a stuffed exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History, New Delhi. That, however, was no consolation to people like us, who had watched anxiously as she struggled against odds because of the delay in conducting the surgery, hoping against the increasingly fading hope that she would live. In my sorrow, I tried to draw some comfort from the fact that from the beginning her devoted mahout, Sahabuddin, had done his best to keep her alive, feeding her whatever he could, before newspapers had made her a celebrity. Second, I hoped that the wave of public anger her passing had unleashed would lead to a successful public campaign to prevent elephants, highly sensitive and intelligent living beings with a complex system of communication and deep emotional ties among themselves, from being separated from their herds, captured, bought and sold, and put savagely to work.

Nothing of the sort has happened, despite elephants being included in the First Schedule of the Wildlife Protection Act of India, 1972. They can be seen in the cities begging, or standing for endless hours at weddings and other festive occasions, after being made to walk scores of miles in searing summer heat. The reason is the non-implementation of laws, rules and Government directives because of ubiquitous corruption among officials and greed among people. 

Maltreatment of animals is, doubtless, a universal feature. Consider, example, the stupid, uninformed and cruel drive in Beijing against “large and vicious” dogs, which is causing perfectly affectionate and friendly dogs like Golden Retrievers and Labradors being forcibly taken away from their owners and killed. Humankind, of course, has suffered for this. As Charles Patterson shows in Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust, enslaving of humans provided the pattern of human slavery as their abuse has provided the model for human abuse. Meanwhile, temple authorities who torture and abuse elephants, should remember the warning in Shrimad Bhagvata (the Holy Book of God), Skandha five, chapter 26:


“God has given different forms of livelihood to different creatures. Some of these may go against the interest of man. But man should not retaliate against these creatures for two reasons.  They are not endowed with the capacity to know that they are doing injury to man; and next, man knows that they will be injured if he retaliates, A person who injures lower creatures for selfish reasons goes to the purgatory called Andhakupa (Dark Well) and there he will have to live in a low kind of body, attacked by the spirits of the creatures he had injured. In darkness, without sleep, and restless, he will have to drag on a wretched existence.” (Translation by Swami Tapasyananda.) 

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