Media attention was initially drawn to the tusker when visuals of it breaking into homes and ration shops went viral on social media. (PTI)
Idukki (Kerala): Arikkomban, a bull elephant fond of eating rice, which also earned him the moniker, lazily forages in a thicket along with his herd in Chinnakanal area of this high range district.
He is oblivious to the media frenzy that has been created in the state which is divided between keeping him in captivity or relocating him deep into some other forest area.
There are differences of opinion regarding the fate of the tusker with animal lovers advocating for his relocation, while local residents are demanding that he be captured and removed from the area or kept in captivity.
Angels Nair, general secretary of NGO Animal Legal Force Integration, said, "The state government has no power to capture elephants and keep them in captivity. They also have no powers to train them into kumki elephants."
"Moreover, if they ensure a source of food for the elephant, it would not foray into the residential and inhabited areas," he told PTI.
On the other hand, protesting residents of Santhapara, Chinnakanal and neighbouring grama panchayats, bordering the famous hill station Munnar in Kerala's Idukki district, are fed up with the antics of the tusker and want him removed from the area.
One such resident, a woman, said, "I live alone with my mother. One night the elephant came there and damaged our house. Several others have faced this problem. Is human life more important than the freedom of one tusker? He is a nuisance now."
Even politicians have joined the cause espoused by the local residents.
Congress MP from Idukki, Dean Kuriakose, said, "The Kerala High Court was misled by the petitioners into staying capture of the elephant. People are scared of coming out of their homes. There is no solution but to capture Arikkomban and remove him from the area."
Media attention was initially drawn to the tusker when visuals of it breaking into homes and ration shops went viral on social media.
However, it was the intervention of the Kerala High Court -- which has for now allowed Arikkomban to stroll around freely for a few more days -- that focused the media glare on the issue.
The High Court in a late night sitting on March 23 stomped the brakes on the government's move to dart and cage Arikkomban in an elephant kraal on March 26.
The stay has been extended till April 5 by when a court appointed expert committee has to decide the fate of the tusker.
Thereafter, every move, from the lazy foraging of the tusker, to the locals protesting for his capture and removal from the area and the subsequent developments in the High Court is being keenly watched and reported by the media in this southern state.
It is the lack of judicial intervention in the case of capture of two other tuskers -- PT7 and PM2 -- from Palakkad and Wayanad districts of the state, respectively, that everyone forgot about them after they were sent into captivity for being trained as 'kumki' elephants -- used to trap and capture other pachyderms.
There are news reports that one of the two tuskers, PM2, might be released into the wild by the forest department.
The development comes while there are two pleas, one of them by Nair, pending in the High Court seeking release of PM2 and PT7.
The bench's denial for any temporary capture of the tusker was interpreted by the locals of the affected areas -- around 10 panchayats in around Chinnakanal -- as an indifference towards their lives and livelihoods both of which were under threat not just by Arikkomban, but also a couple of other elephants.
Aggrieved by the court's order and angry at the animal welfare organisations whose plea was responsible for it, the locals, including even school going children, decided to protest against the same by coming on to the roads and blocking traffic and the same received and continues to receive media coverage.
One child was seen telling media how kids were scared to go to school or even buy groceries, afraid they might land before one of the tuskers who are frequently roaming through the area.
He said that he had exams, but did not go to school as he was afraid that the bus that he would take might encounter an elephant on the way.
As the protestors continued to block roads, news media actively covered the developments which also included a complaint against Vivek K Viswanathan -- the managing trustee of Walking Eye Foundation for Animal Advocacy, one of the petitioner organisations which has opposed Arikkomban's capture.
The complaint by a local Youth Congress leader, reportedly, accuses Viswanathan of making statements before the media and on social media aimed at creating social unrest and riots in the area.
Meanwhile, Nair, whose plea to get the other two tuskers released is yet to be decided, has now decided to raise the issue before the special bench when it will sit on April 5, hoping that he would also get his prayers answered.
"This issue has been placed before that bench. I will raise it on the next date of hearing," he said.