Gods In Chains

I was first introduced to elephants at the age of 6, in a small hindi folk story of Morā the hathi (elephant) — a calf who had lost his parents to poachers and goes through this brave journey of finding a home. And I remember very distinctly breaking down and being extremely distraught that a fictitious elephant had to go through that struggle. Which I think became symbolic of how I felt about animals, extremely affected, but was usually useless.

Like every child who was remotely interested in animals, I (of course) dreamt of becoming a vet. As the dream it faded, I just assumed I’d never be able to work with animals again, until recently, when I was struck by an overwhelming need to work with animals. I joined C.U.P.A. as an intern and it just got clear with every day that I belonged among animals and people who cared for animals.

While noticing their work with wildlife, and their current campaign to re-wild all captive elephants, I fell in love with elephants all over again. (*Insert rant about how they are such smart, capricious, beautiful beings*)


I actually wanted to talk about the importance of recognising a certain pattern about our behaviour with them.

As most people reading this blog would know circuses and zoos are horrible, they are cruel, inhumane and overall a big fat NO.

But, have we (specially as Indians) spared much thought about temple elephants?

The forest department conducts checks to ensure that 13 important criterias for having a captive elephant is followed, which includes, food, flooring, water supply, health conditions, etc. So these elephants have their life pretty sorted, right?

Here’s where most of us are wrong, even in places where they are loved and not beaten or made to stand 12 hours a day with their mahout. They are still constantly exposed to humans, which isn’t natural for them at all. Wild animals *need* to get away from people and have their alone time, in fact any human contact is stressful. And here they are constantly interacting with the mahout for sure. At the end of the day, that relationship is built on fear (of the mahout losing his life if the elephant isn’t in check, or the elephant fearing injury from the mahout) and for any creature it is nothing short of toxic.

I know temple elephants have been a ‘part of our culture’ and I may be affecting religious sentiments, but these elephants aren’t religious, they didn’t choose to be Hindu. Or be captured.

So please, just think about it once, before you go to and get ‘blessings’ from temple elephants whose lives are cursed.

P.S. If you see any captive elephant being mistreated, please write an email (if you have pictures even better) and send it to any animal welfare organisation that deals with wildlife. It won’t take long, but it could make a huge difference.

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