“Adivasis no longer walk among the elephants without fear” – Human animal conflict on the rise – Tamil Nadu, Kerala & Chhattisgarh

Hungry elephant on the rampage
Photo courtesy Davidson Sargunam >>

On March 30 [2012], Kokila, an Adivasi woman, was collecting firewood with a few friends near Kozhikolly village in the Devala area of Gudalur taluk, 50 km below Udhagamandalam, when she was charged by an angry elephant. It hurled her to the ground. Mercifully, I hope, she died instantly. The elephant kicked her around like a football and smashed her into a pulp. An Adivasi who saw the incident said, “It was terrible. She was smashed to pieces, like chamandi actually. We had to collect the bits and put them into a sack. It was a sad and sickening task. We could not prepare her for burial according to our rites. There was no body left.”

A passionate conservationist asked me, “Did they get compensation?” The question angered me. Kokila was a lively, feisty, irrepressible woman. Panichis, women belonging to the Paniya tribe, are independent, proud and they tend to keep to themselves. Kokila was different. She represented her people, even becoming a Panchayat member, really unusual for a Panichi woman. I recall her taking a lead on stage in dramas. She was bold and theatrical, making everyone laugh, dancing infectiously with abandon, urging everyone to join her. How do you compensate the death of such a woman? Of any woman for that matter? Can you replace the person for her family? Her children? Her people? […]

Does anyone deserve to die in such a dreadful manner, for absolutely no fault of their own?

I live on the edge of a forest and all my friends and community are passionate about conservation. When elephants break our water tanks, or create havoc for a few days, we accept it philosophically. After all, we are living on their turf, in once-uninhabited terrain. It’s okay to lose a little. For the poorer population, a paddy or banana field gone is their entire livelihood. I shudder when I hear people throwing huge loud firecrackers to chase away the menace. I’m even more distraught when I hear that they throw burning tyres, which will stick on the elephants’ skin, cause terrible pain and is the only thing guaranteed to make the animal move. But I know I’m reacting like a city armchair environmentalist, sitting safe and sound in my solid stone bungalow listening to the screaming and the firecrackers from a comfortable distance while poor people battle for their lives, their livelihoods and their precarious homes. […]

Even as I mourn the dead victims — collateral damage, wild lifers would say perhaps — I understand the rage of the elephants. Elephant behaviour has drastically changed even in the last two decades I’ve lived here. Every pachyderm has bullet wounds festering and hurting the animal; injuries that have driven the once-docile beasts to regard humans as the enemy. Adivasi elders tell us that they walked among the elephants without fear 50 years ago. Those days are long gone. […]

Source: “Who will bell the big cat?” by Mari Marcel Thekaekara, The Hindu, 14 April 2012
Address : https://www.thehindu.com/arts/magazine/article3314376.ece
Date Visited: Sun Apr 15 2012 13:17:16 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Village communities in Chhattisgarh’s Dharamjaigarh block continue to struggle with brutal human-elephant conflict.

In May 2019, Sanctuary’s Project Leader Sajal Madhu reported three separate encounters resulting in human deaths from the region. […]

A Greenpeace report states that human-elephant conflict in Chhattisgarh started in the late 80’s with the migration of wild herds from the neighbouring states of Odisha and Jharkhand, prompted by the devastation of forests due to mining. Shamefully, in the decades since the problem first arose, the Indian government has continued to side with mining interests at the cost of local communities and biodiversity.

Source: HEC Death Toll Continues To Rise In Chhattisgarh
URL: https://www.sanctuaryasia.com/conservation/news/10931-hec-death-toll-continues-to-rise-in-chhattisgarh
Date visited: 7 June 2020

Elephant with festering wounds
Learn more on human-animal conflicts across India >>

The tradition

Abused elephants are dangerous as many retaliate. According to figures compiled by the Heritage Animal Task Force, captive elephants killed 526 people in Kerala alone in 15 years. There have also been numerous incidents in Tamil Nadu in which frustrated captive elephants have killed their mahouts. […]

Several decades ago, temples under the control of the HR&CE Department had at least 100 elephants. But over the years, the ageing and death of elephants have left the temples with just 29. Elephants are a necessary part of temple rituals since the presiding deities of some temples are considered king, lord and master. They should be presented daily with ‘Ratha’ (a chariot), ‘gaja’ (an elephant), ‘thuraga’ (a horse), and ‘pathathigal’ (foot soldiers), said a former official of the Department. […]

On an average, each animal spent 15 hours in the enclosure. All the elephants observed had chains on their legs, with 46% having two chains. The elephants were forced to learn a higher number of commands for a longer period of time. Of the animals observed for social interaction, only one was allowed to interact with another elephant.

Despite the knowledge that elephants need to interact with their own kind, most captive elephants are subjected to a solitary life and most of the elephants (22) were reported to be quiet, the report said, implying the poor welfare conditions for the temple elephants.

The report recommended that keeping elephants at temples be phased out or all such elephants be brought together in one location with a suitable natural environment. The elephants could then be used for work when needed. […]

Asked about activists’ demand that all elephants be sent to the wild or to a common location and be removed from temple service, he said the government was for protecting both the elephants and respecting the sentiments and beliefs of the devotees. […]

Source: “Sacred and shackled: Tamil Nadu’s temple elephants” by L. Srikr­ishna (With in­puts from Ra­jesh B Nair in Puducherry; S. Sun­dar in Sriv­il­liput­tur; and Deepa H. Ra­makr­ish­nan and Malavika Ra­makr­ish­nan in Chen­nai.), The Hindu, 18 December 2022
URL: https://www.thehindu.com
Date Visited: 18 December 2022

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

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See also

Accordweb.in | Accord | Articles by co-founder Mari Marcel Thekaekara | Shola Trust

Atree.org | Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology & the Environment (posts)

Climate change | Audio | The Climate Question (BBC Podcast)

Environmental history and what makes for a civilization – Romila Thapar

Equations blog (Equitable Tourism Options)

Indigenous knowledge systems

Information provided by Indian government agencies and other organizations (FAQ)

Nature and wildlife | Crocodile | Elephant | Tiger | Mangrove forest | Trees

PARI’s tales from tiger territory | People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI)

United Nations on climate change


What is the Forest Rights Act about? 

Who is a forest dweller under this law, and who gets rights?