'Tortured. Blinded. Starved': The Plight Of India’s Temple Elephants

During religious festivals, temple elephants are often used in large processions, sometimes made to stand for hours without food or water.


The elephant is a very important part of culture and religion in India.

In Hinduism, the largest religion in the South Asian country, the elephant is considered to be the embodiment of Lord Ganesh — the god of good fortune  on Earth.

Unfortunately, the treatment of the revered animal in reality is far from being godly. In fact, it’s quite the opposite of that.

As of November 2015, there were around 3,500 captive elephants in India with 2,500 of them owned by private individuals. The southern state of Kerala is home to their largest population, where elephants are mostly owned by a number of temples.

During religious festivals, elephants, especially the ones owned by temples, are often used in large processions, sometimes made to stand for hours without food or water.

“Some of the elephants are paraded at three or four places during the day for 12 or more hours. A lot of these festivals happen at night. The animals don't get enough rest, and misbehave mainly because of overwork," a senior wildlife officer told the BBC in 2010.

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In 2014, a video went viral showing Raju, an elephant that was kept in chains for 50 years, was freed. The unfortunate animal’s owner, a drug addict, beat and starved Raju to beg for money.


But Raju was just one of the thousands of other elephants being subjected to similar  or worse  abuse, some of which have been documented in "Gods In Shackles," a powerful documentary by Sangita Iyer, an award-winning Toronto-based Indian journalist.


Although the problem has existed for decades, there is no end in sight to the abuse, which is why animal activists and journalists in India have launched #SaveOurJumbos, a currently online campaign, calling for an end to elephant persecution in the name of tradition.

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