A moving work on gods in shackles

Documentary exposes ill treatment of elephants in Kerala’s temples

January 17, 2019 08:08 pm | Updated 11:24 pm IST - MALAPPURAM

Journalist-turned-documentary maker Sangita Iyer screened her much-acclaimed work Gods in Shackles at Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala on Thursday, presenting before a curious audience the dark and hideous side of elephant displays in the name of temple festivals.

“The film has touched me so deep that I not only sympathise for our temple elephants, but also feel like doing something to save them from the bestiality of our society,” said P.R. Ramesh, senior doctor at Arya Vaidya Sala.

The feature-length documentary starkly exposed the cruel treatment being meted out to the elephants in Kerala’s temples. “The problem was so crying that I could not restrict it to a mere documentary length,” said Ms. Iyer justifying the 95-minute film on temple elephants.

Using high quality videos, including some secret grabs, Ms. Iyer has cleverly included the interviews of wildlife experts, temple priests, scientists, rights activists, elephant vets, bureaucrats, elephant owners, mahouts, festival conductors and zoo officials.

Attempting never once to glorify the parading of elephants for cultural festivals in Kerala, Ms. Iyer has preferred to underscore the fact that no animal should be tortured. “In circuses and other entertainment camps, elephants are used with the explicit intention of making money. But in the name of religion, where we preach Ahimsa, this cruelty is unpardonable,” she said.

She said that using elephants for temple festivals could be banned only if proper rehabilitation plans were there. She called upon women to react when they see atrocities. “Don’t just sit and cry. You must do something,” she urged women.

Ms. Iyer said that the film was made with the intention of “awakening the elephant inside every Malayali”. Her choice of the title Gods in Shackles , using a typeface that looks like Devanagari font, too had met with opposition. “But I chose it deliberately to get the attention this issue deserves,” Ms. Iyer told The Hindu.

By spreading better awareness, Gods in Shackles is expected to provide hope for thousands of endangered captive and wild elephants in India.

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