The mahouts and kavadis tending the elephants across the State had made news from 2006 to 2012 during the shifting of Dasara elephants to Mysore from the camps.
Their demands are several decades old. They had threatened to boycott Dasara in the past. However, they did not resort to any protest when the first batch of elephants left for Mysore from Hunsur on August 28.
While mahouts have been demanding confirmation of services and ranks of ‘foresters’ in the Forest Department, the Kavadis want be recognised as ‘guards’. But, they find themselves below that of group ‘D’ employees — without land, proper shelter and basic amenities for life.
History has it that Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar had accorded the mahouts great respect, for he knew that the job of a mahout could not be handled by anybody else.
Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Ajai Mishra told The Hindu that there were 63 sanctioned posts for mahouts in different elephant camps in the State such as Bandipur, BRT, Nagarahole National Park, Sakrebylu and others. But, the Dubare camp is not included in the list.
Of this, 35 posts had been filled. There were 33 posts for ‘Kotwals’ (senior mahouts) of which 28 had been filled. As far as kavadis were concerned, there were 34 posts, of which 27 had been filled, Mr. Mishra said.
‘Jamadar’ Annaiah from Shattalli near Hunsur worked as a kavadi all his life, says M.B. Prabhu of the Indian Institute of Tribal Education, a non-governmental organisation in the Nagarahole National Park.
Another mahout, Doddanna from Nagapura, who is no more, had gone to Paris for a filmshoot establishing Hollywood connection. Doddanna was the mahout of Balarama elephant, which had carried the golden howdah for many years.
The mahouts’ have also been demanding insurance cover for life.
Currently, the mahouts and kavadis are covered under the insurance scheme, but only till the Dasara festivities are over.
Each of the mahouts and kavadis have been insured for a sum of Rs. 1 lakh each. Apart from the 14 mahouts and kavadis, there are 10 more special mahouts, who had arrived from different camps to look after the elephants, said Nagaraj, the veterinarian who is in-charge of the Dasara elephants here.
He told The Hindu that 12 of the 14 elephants were insured for Rs. 3 lakh each, while Sarala and Varalakshmi were insured for Rs. 2 lakh each.
The mahouts and kavadis want good schooling facilities for their children.
It is unfortunate that the mahouts and kavadis, who were the ‘genuine elephant researchers’, were still being considered as on muster roll (MR) and petty cash payment (PCP) watchers instead of employees.