Concerned about the plight of the elephants who were ultimately used at Kerala's recent Thrissur Pooram event, animal-protection advocate and actor Pamela Anderson sent a respectful letter to the Chief Minister of Kerala to extend an unprecedented offer: to contribute the cost of providing life-size, realistic and portable elephants made of bamboo and papier-mâché to replace real ones in the event. Papier-mâché elephants have been used twice by the Confederation of Tamil Nadu Malayalee Associations for Onam festivities, much to everyone's amusement and enjoyment. Anderson thought such a switch would be good both for elephants and for Kerala's efforts to promote itself as a tourist destination.
Her offer came on the heels of a letter from the Animal Welfare Board of India -- a statutory body operating under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change -- to Kerala officials asking them to cancel the planned elephant parade slated for Thrissur Pooram because permission to use the elephants in a performance is required by law. Rather high-handedly, the organisers had not even applied for such permission.
Thinking themselves above the laws that regular mortals must abide by, the organisers proceeded to use about 100 elephants, in violation of the Performing Animals (Registration) Rules, 2001, as set down in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
"[S]ome locals seemed to think that Anderson had no right to speak up for the elephants just because she is from another country."
"Use" is a good word for it, but "abuse" fits the situation even better. Not content with ignoring this Central Government law, the organisers also ignored the elephants' basic needs. The huge contingent of elephants were forced to wear heavy ceremonial garb under the sweltering sun, chained by all four legs, made to walk on hot pavements, stand in place for long hours and led into an enormous throng of thousands of people. These sensitive animals were frightened by the fireworks, screaming and loud drumming. Workers controlled them with metal-tipped poles, adding to their woes.
According to figures compiled by the Heritage Animal Task Force, captive elephants abused in similar ways have killed 526 people in Kerala within the past 15 years.
While Anderson's heartfelt offer was met with support by some people, others took to social media to post sexually explicit insults and personal attacks on this compassionate person who had simply made a sensible suggestion and a generous offer.
A Deccan Chronicle article stated, "The news of Pamela's requests became viral on social media and as usual netizens started their ponkala (vernacular word for online abuse) on Pamela's official page". It went on to say, "Most Keralites used their mother tongue to criticise Pamela. Many used sexually explicit remarks against her and criticised her profession". It noted, "Most of the comments were made by persons using their fake profiles named after fictional characters or famous movie characters".
"Goddesses and Lord Ganesha are revered in Hinduism, but we wouldn't know it by the way women who speak out are often personally attacked or by the way India's elephants are treated."
And racism reared its ugly head. Although international tourism is heavily sought by the state, with Thrissur Pooram promoted to foreign tourists, and despite the fact that elephants used by temples in Kerala spend their lives in chains, some locals seemed to think that Anderson had no right to speak up for the elephants just because she is from another country. They implied that she did not know what she was talking about, as if only Indian people can share in these animals' joy or sorrow or see what's going on.
An article in the UK's The Guardian about the abuse female bloggers face, often by people who carefully hide their own identity, demonstrates how common it is around the world for women to be insulted or even threatened for simply speaking up. It reads, "Crude insults, aggressive threats and unstinting ridicule: it's business as usual in the world of website news commentary ...." It goes on to state, "The frequency of the violent online invective -- or 'trolling' -- levelled at female commentators and columnists is now causing some of the best known names in journalism to hesitate before publishing their opinions. As a result, women writers across the political spectrum are joining to call for a stop to the largely anonymous name-calling".
Goddesses and Lord Ganesha are revered in Hinduism, but we wouldn't know it by the way women who speak out are often personally attacked -- commonly through insults of a sexual nature -- or by the way India's elephants are treated.
Enough is enough. As "Green Goddess" Anderson says, "We can only expect genuine blessings from those we treat with kindness."
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