Friday, February 16, 2007

Weight of chains and the pain of a goad

Text by Nilvala Vijayasiri

British put up Race Course to provide entrainment to human being at the expense of animal. Colonial masters were quite competent in using animals and humans to entertain human beings. British were responsible for the elimination of half of the elephant population of our country which today has dwindled to around 3000-4000. Ironically, 60 years from independence, Race Course, Colombo 7 became the venue for a show of elephants.

News in the recent past brought to us many tragic stories of wanton killings of elephants (including hacking them to death). These incidents are added under a sweeping title called the human-elephant conflict and of course forgotten from our collective memory. Quite conveniently is forgotten the fact that it is we who create the conflict by our ever expanding encroachment of their habitat. A yet another facet of this is the population of the so called tamed elephants, the expansion of which is vigorously lobbied at the highest level by interested parties. Here again we conveniently forget that majority of these so called tamed elephants are in fact plucked from the wild in their baby years to be tamed to work as beasts of burden and to adorn cultural pageants. While preaching about ‘tender loving care’ of these elephants, the owners did not mind going still another step further and hoisting a show where these majestic animals were made to look like clowns at the will and behest of men. We wonder where humanism has vanished.

Necessity for tamed elephant population, as lobbyists say, is mainly for cultural purposes. These cultural events comprise mostly of Buddhist cultural pageants (perahera). The ‘tamed’ animals who are made to participate in these or to work as beasts of burden were not born tame. Nor were they persuaded by word. It is the fear of hurt, the weight of the chains and the pain of the goad that has made them tame. In full regalia they will walk in the perahera, still in chains and the sharp goad (henduwa) next to them. What thoughts shall pass the mind of a great teacher, Siddharta Gautama Buddha whose greatest message was loving kindness, if He is to witness this which is done in his name.

The elephant is born free and beyond all doubt desires to stay free. It is incumbent upon us, a nation which has known the cruelty of subjugation to assure the freedom of man and animal alike. In an year that celebrates 2550 of Buddhism, let there be freedom from pain and fear for man as well as elephant.

No comments: