Thiruvananthapuram: Debate over elephant show in temple fests hots up

Jumbo owners term it religio-cultural ritual, activists call it entertainment.

Thiruvananthapuram: With photographs of injured elephant paraded during Thrissur Pooram coming to the fore, and the MoEF exempting elephants used for religious purposes from Performing Animals Rules, the question of elephant torture has boiled down to one of definition. Is an elephant procession part of culture or is it entertainment?

Elephant owners argue that it is a religio-cultural ritual. Animal activists, on the other hand, say the elephant spectacle of a Thrissur Pooram is plain entertainment. Last year, before the start of Thrissur Pooram, the Animal Welfare Board of India insisted that only those elephants registered under the Performing Animals (Registration) Rules should be employed for this year’s Thrissur Pooram.

MoEF’s inspector general of forests, citing clause 2(h) of the Rules, stated that elephants used for religious festivals need not take registration. The clause defines ‘performing animal’ as an animal which is used at or for the purpose of any entertainment including a film or an equine event to which the public are admitted.

State Animal Welfare Board member M. N. Jayachandran said that the parade of elephants during Thrissur Pooram was not part of the region’s culture. “The Vadakkunnathan Temple where the pooram plays out is said to be more than 1300 years old. But the pooram is only a little more than 200 years old. It began only in 1798, during the period of Sakthan Thampuram,” he said.

Heritage Animal Task Force secretary V. K. Venkitachalam said that things have come to such a pass that rules are violated with impunity. “This time injured elephants were used for the Pooram, and the authorities did not even bother to mask the wound. Such is the official patronage enjoyed by elephant owners and the festival committee,” Venkitachalam said.

The Supreme Court, while banning ‘jallikkattu’ in Tamil Nadu in its 2014 order, had undermined the ‘culture’ argument. “The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act has been enacted with an object to safeguard the welfare of the animals and evidently to cure some mischief and age-old practices,” the court said.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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