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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 111

Crocodile tears for elephants

By Janaka Perera - Asian Tribune

A writer calling himself Daya Dissanayake alleges (as reported recently in the Asian Tribune and the April 4 Daily News) that parading elephants during Sri Lanka’s temple festivals is torture to them. This criticism has been timed to coincide with the 2550th Buddha Jayanthi year.

Why is this sudden concern for elephants used in religious festivals? There is something more than what meets the eye here. Why aren’t these bleeding hearts showing the same concern for the suffering of labour intensive bulls, for cattle (including pregnant cows and calves) that are transported and slaughtered under horrifying conditions or for chicken, goats, pigs and stray dogs killed with equal brutality? – Or for caged birds and other wild creatures? Why aren’t these `compassionate humans’ condemning the meat industry?

From time immemorial, especially before the industrial revolution, animals were domesticated for various purposes (other than for food) in almost all countries. Elephants were used not only for labor, in war and in religious festivals but also as means of transport especially for royalty. A royal procession always included a number of elephants including the tusker, which the king rode.

Although the Buddha was strongly opposed to the taking of life in any form he never preached against the domestication of elephants or other wild beasts. Domesticating these creatures was obviously a socio-economic necessity in that era. What mattered to the Enlightened One was that these animals should be well looked after in health and in sickness. This teaching was observed to the letter in Sri Lanka’s traditional society where there were veterinarians to treat not only elephants but also other domestic animals. Even as late as the 1940s paddy farmers here treated domesticated buffaloes as family members and often addressed them as `daruwo’ (children).

Following the same Buddhist and Hindu tradition domesticated elephants, including those used in temple festivals, whether in Sri Lanka or India receive regular medical attention and plenty of food, unlike those in the wilds which have to fend for themselves and often risk their lives and those of humans in the process – not to mention the beasts falling victim to poachers’ bullets.

This however is certainly no attempt to justify harassment caused to domesticated elephants – or for that matter any creature - whether they are used for the enjoyment of tourists or in circuses or any other event in Thailand or elsewhere.

However, the real motive behind this latest concern for Sri Lanka’s domesticated elephants clearly appears to be ulterior, according to leading Buddhist Activist and Attorney-at-Law Senaka Weeraratne. He has no doubt that anti-Buddhist elements are behind this campaign.

Says Weeraratne: "All this hue and cry over elephants parading at temple festivals is to make sure that no major Buddhist temple festival will have any future. Once the parading of elephants at temple festivals is stopped Sri Lanka's best-known historic Buddhist cultural pageant – the Kandy Esala Festival - will collapse. And along with it Sri Lanka’s biggest religious festival that has drawn international attention, will come to an end much to the embarrassment and humiliation of Buddhists."’

"This concern for elephants paraded during a Buddhist festival is unfortunately not extended in any substantial way to the plight of other kinds of animals who forfeit their lives to keep the taste buds of people stimulated. We have yet to see a flood of articles on the plight of animals subject to home slaughter in residential areas of Colombo, suffering of battery hen kept in cramped conditions or opposition to expansion of inland fisheries in hallowed lakes of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Dambulla and other areas."’

- Asian Tribune -

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