ALAPPUZHA: The season of religious festivals has begun, and elephants are getting busy with parades in Kerala. However, the authorities are least bothered about qualifications and living standards of some 2,000 mahouts, despite a series of instances of jumbos getting angry with them. A tusker killed his mahout during the annual festival of Thiruvairanikkulam Kalathil Mahadeva Temple on Sunday — the second in two weeks. On April 21, another had trampled a mahout to death near Parassala. A report to the Union environment ministry by elephant task force (ETF) in 2010, emphasised the need for improving their service conditions to ensure better care for elephants.
Maniyan Pillai, 52, of Muthukulam here, who was injured by a tusker a couple of years ago during a parade at Chavara of Kollam district, is still bed-ridden. He says he had got benefits neither from government nor elephant owner. He is unable to walk around due to the broken knee, which needs urgent surgery. But he is also broke without a job. His case is not isolated. Many injured mahouts are living in pathetic conditions for years, says Manoj, secretary of Akhila Kerala Ana Thozhilali Union (AKATU). “We had brought it to government’s attention many times, but to no avail,” he said.
M.N. Jayachandran, member, Kerala Animal Welfare Board, said there were many complaints of declining life standards and bad habits of stressed mahouts. “The only remedy is improving their lifestyle,” he said. “There should be a government level committee to study the plight of families of the injured and dead mahouts.” Although the 2010 report had suggested mahout training schools, nothing has come to reality. The recommendations of registration of mahouts as trained and licenced elephant handlers also reached nowhere. During the festival season, while taking elephants for rituals or parades, each mahout is paid a bata of Rs 1,000 a day. But at other times they hardly get anything. The average monthly wage is below Rs 5,000.