BBC News – The tragic lives of India’s mistreated captive elephants

Soutik Biswas – India correspondent

New Delhi – India, 24 April 2018. For more than a month, Rajeshwari, a 42-year-old temple elephant in India, lay desultorily on a patch of sand, her forelimb and femur broken and her body ravaged by sores.

An animal lover went to the court, seeking to put her down. The court said the pachyderm could be “euthanised” after the vets examined her. On Saturday afternoon, she died anyway.

Rajeshwari had led a hard life since she was sold to the temple in the southern state of Tamil Nadu in 1990. She would stand on stone floors for long hours to bless devotees and perform rituals like pouring or bringing water to the deities.

In 2004, she fell from an open truck on the way to a “rejuvenation” camp for captive elephants and broke her leg. She lived in pain ever since with a misshapen limb.

Recently, she broke her femur when authorities used an earthmover to flip her and treat her. After that, say activists who visited the temple to check on her condition, the largely disabled pachyderm just wasted to death.

Rajeshwari’s tragic story mirrors the sorry state of many of 4,000 captive elephants in India, mostly in the states of Assam, Kerala, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.

India, according to a World Animal Protection report, is widely considered the “birthplace of taming elephants for use by humans” – a practice which began thousands of years ago. (In comparison, India has 27,000 elephants in the wild).

In southern India, pachyderms are rented out during religious festivals for noisy parades and processions, including weddings and shop and hotel openings. They travel long distances in open vehicles and walk on tarred roads in the scorching sun for hours. (They have often gone on the run at temple festivals and killed devotees.)

Elsewhere, chained and saddled elephants are used for rides, sometimes carting tourists up and down steep forts, or entertaining tourists who wish to touch, bathe and ride them.

They are also hired by political parties for campaign processions, and by companies for promoting their goods in trade fairs. They are rented out for tourism in the national parks, used for anti-depredation squads, logging activities and lately even for begging on highways.

According to media reports, more than 70 captive elephants have died under “unnatural conditions and at a young age” in private custody in just three states – Kerala – Tamil Nadu – Rajasthan – between 2015 and 2017.

Some 12 captive elephants have died this year in Kerala alone. “Most of these deaths are due to torture, abuse, overwork or faulty management practices,” says Suparna Ganguly, president of the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre.

‘Gross ignorance’

It’s not surprising to see why.

Lack of space and habitat to exercise and graze in natural surroundings means elephants lodged in captivity are shackled for long hours in concrete sheds with stone floors. This is enough to make the animal sick.

They usually get foot rot, a condition where their feet develop abscesses and thinning pads, sometimes leading to severe infection. When outside, constant exposure to the glare of sun can affect their eyesight. Ms Ganguly blames this on “gross ignorance on part of the keepers and managers”.

Then there’s the poor diet. Elephants are slow eaters, and in the wild typically eat more than 100 kinds of roots, shoots, grasses, foliage and tubers. In captivity, their diets are severely restricted. In parts of northern India, for example, the animals have access only to glucose-rich dried sugarcane fodder.

Vets say many of them suffer from intestinal infection, septicaemia and lung-related infections. The life expectancy of captive elephants in Kerala, according to a report, has dipped to below 40 years from 70-75 years a couple of decades ago.

There’s not even enough places to shelter rescued and ailing elephants. There are five of them in India – including three private rescue centres – that house some 40 elephants, not enough considering the high population of captive animals.

Tamil Nadu holds month-long rejuvenation camps for temple elephants, where the animals can rest, get treated and interact with other elephants in a natural environment.

Elephants are trucked into these camps from distant places and many elephants have had accidents resulting in deaths due to their inability to cope with road transport or because they fall down from trucks.

India’s Supreme Court has outlawed the sale and exhibition of elephants at a well-known animal fair, and directed authorities to ban the use of elephants in religious functions to reduce their demand.

More than 350 captive elephants in Kerala and Rajasthan are “illegal” – they don’t have any ownership papers. Despite adequate laws – including a powerful animal protection law and guidelines to protect captive elephants – not enough is being done to protect them, say activists.

Lucrative trade

One reason is captive elephants are a lucrative trade. The owner of an elephant in Kerala, for example, can easily make up to 70,000 rupees ($1053; £754) for a single day’s appearance at a religious festival during the busy season.

“For the first time in the history of India’s captive elephant business, the murky underworld of elephant trade has been split wide open – decades of elephant trafficking, the ghastly nexus between poachers capturing young elephants and their collusion with private trade coupled with neglect, corruption and apathy on part of government departments have led to the unacceptable conditions today,” says Ms Ganguly.

The top court is expected to pass further – and final orders – on protection of the mistreated elephants soon. There may be hope yet.

The Tribune – Sir Simon McDonald calls on Captain Amarinder Singh

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 23 April 2018. Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Monday met Sir Simon McDonald, Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Head of the Diplomatic Service, when the latter called on him at his official residence in Chandigarh.

The two discussed issues of mutual concern and areas of bilateral cooperation.

The chief minister appreciates the support extended to Punjab by the British Government and said he looked forward to taking the relationship to the next level.

McDonald was accompanied by UK’s Deputy High Commissioner Andrew Ayre.

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24 April 2018

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NDTV – British Diplomat apologises for calling Golden Temple a “mosque”

“I was wrong: I am sorry. I should of course have said the Golden Temple or, better, Sri Harmandir (Harmandr) Sahib,” said Simon McDonald, Permanent Under-Secretary, Foreign and Commonwealth

Edited by Debanish Achom (with inputs from agencies)

New Delhi – India, 24 April 2018. A top British diplomat has called the Golden Temple a mosque following which he apologised for the gaffe amid protests by the Sikh community.

Simon McDonald, Permanent Under-Secretary, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, referred to the Golden Temple in Amritsar as the “Golden Mosque” in a tweet on Monday.

“At Queen’s Birthday party, presented with picture of The Queen at Golden Mosque in Amritsar in 1997, a permanent memento for Deputy High Commission’s wall,” he tweeted.

On realising his mistake, he apologised for the gaffe.

“I was wrong: I am sorry. I should of course have said the Golden Temple or, better, Sri Harmandir (Harmandr) Sahib,” the British Foreign Office top diplomat said today morning.

However, Bhai Amrik Singh, the chairman of the Sikh Federation, said it was a “major gaffe” by a top civil servant and “totally unacceptable”. “It demonstrates a remarkable level of ignorance from someone in his position,” Mr Singh said.

“In our view, a public apology and admitting the mistake is not enough. What we need is a commitment from the UK government and senior civil servants to root out such ignorance and discrimination or we will continue to face hate, abuse and threats of violence,” Mr Singh was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, today said he would launch an independent inquiry into the British military’s role in the Indian Army’s raid on the Golden Temple in 1984.

Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had launched “Operation Blue Star” to crush secessionist movement in Punjab and sent troops into the Golden Temple in 1984. Her action led to her assassination by her bodyguards the same year.

Simon McDonald’s error follows criticism of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson for risking offending Buddhists during a 2017 visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda, a sacred site in Myanmar’s capital, Yangon.

Andrew Patrick, the UK’s ambassador to Myanmar, was forced to tell Mr Johnson to stop reciting the opening verse to Rudyard Kipling’s “The Road to Mandalay”, which chronicles a retired British serviceman’s memories of colonial service. “Not appropriate,” he was caught on camera telling Britain’s top diplomat.

Dawn – Iran police’s assault on woman over headscarf stirs debate

Nasser Karimi and Mohammad Nasiri

Tehran – Tehran Province – Iran, 24 April 2018. A grainy video of female officers from Iran’s morality police assaulting a young woman whose headscarf only loosely covered her hair has sparked a new public debate on the decades-long requirement for women in the Islamic Republic.

While officials of all ranks up to President Hassan Rouhani have weighed in on the incident, it has seen women in Iran not only question the rule that they must wear the hijab in the street but also their faith in the theocratic nation.

Even before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the long, flowing chadors and hijabs, were both a political and religious symbol in Iran.

“I used to be a person who would always say her prayers and deeply believed in God,” said Afrouz, 28. “I would always say grace before having a meal. Right now, I believe in none of those things.”

The video appeared online last week, with activists suggesting it was taken in Tehran, though nothing in it offers hints at its location. It shows a young woman with a long red scarf loosely covering her head, her hair clearly showing, being surrounded by three morality policewomen wearing chadors, who grab her.

One grabs her by the throat. She screams, they pick her up off her feet. She then ends up on the ground, weeping as another woman comforts her before the officers grab her again.

“Why are you hitting me? You have been destroying us for 30 years,” she is heard shouting at one point.

The video went viral on social media and drew an immediate reaction from officials. Iran’s interior minister, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, ordered authorities on Thursday to investigate the incident soon after Masoumeh Ebtekar, a female vice president for women’s affairs, condemned the police’s “violent” approach to the situation.

Reformist lawmaker Tayebeh Siavoshi said on Saturday that the policewoman seen in the video grabbing the young woman’s throat has been suspended pending the investigation. None of the women in the video have been identified.

“Imposing [force on women] will lead nowhere,” she said.

President Rouhani, a cleric who is considered a moderate within Iran’s political system, also criticised the morality police in a speech on Saturday. The police force’s stated mandate is “promoting virtue and preventing vice.” “Grabbing people’s collars to promote virtue will not work,” Rouhani warned. “You cannot do it by being aggressive.”

Hard-liners, however, have dismissed the video as a foreign plot. The hard-line Kayhan daily on Sunday described the video as “strange and suspicious,” noting foreign activists have promoted it.

Previously, hard-liners pointed to a campaign challenging the hijab launched by a journalist at the Persian service of the Voice of America, which is funded by the US government.

But on the streets of Tehran, women are openly discussing the video and their own encounters with morality police.

“I think that it was very unnecessary the way that the police, or the morality police, handled the situation,” said Hamraz, 27, an Austrian national born to Iranian parents who is on vacation in Tehran.

“It was very unfortunate that it was caught on camera, but in a way it was good that everyone got to see how people are being treated: very unjust and very unfair.”

Sahar, a 25-year-old university student, agreed. “I think everyone must be free to choose what they believe in and we can deal with each other more peacefully instead of trying to induce people to do what you think is right,” she said. “This method surely will not work.”

Chador, ‘the flag of the revolution’

The hijab and chador have long been parts of Persian culture. They became political symbols in 1936, when Iran’s pro-Western ruler Reza Shah Pahlavi banned the garments amid his efforts to rapidly modernise Iran. The ban became a source of humiliation for some pious Muslim women in the country.

As the 1979 Islamic Revolution took hold, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered female civil servants to wear the chador. At first, thousands of women protested the decision in Tehran and Khomeini later said officials should not insult women who chose not to wear it though he also called the chador “the flag of the revolution”.

The hijab and loose-fitting clothing later became mandatory for all women in Iran. And though some freedoms for women were curtailed in the years that followed, Iranian women were still allowed to drive, unlike in Saudi Arabia, and hold public office.

Women arrested for showing their hair in public in Iran can receive jail terms of two months or less and face fines equivalent to $25.

In December, Tehran’s police said they would no longer arrest women for not observing the Islamic dress code as video clips of women choosing not to wear hijabs and walking the streets with their heads uncovered spread across social media.

One image of a young woman, head uncovered and waving her hijab like a flag in Tehran’s Enghelab Street became famous during economic protests that swept Iran later that month. Tehran’s prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, said in March that the woman had been sentenced to 24 months in prison.

The telecommunication junction box she stood on in the photograph has since been re-welded to stop women from standing on it, though protests continue. (AP)