'Where the elephant sleeps': A wonderful film that captures the agony behind joy rides

A 90-minute-length documentary was shown recently at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. It revolves around real stories of elephants given beautiful human names like Sita, Moti, Lakshmi, Anno, but dealt with most inhuman treatment.

Where the Elephant Sleeps by Brigitte Uttar Kornetzky, a Switzerland-based filmmaker and activist, captures the agony and ill-treatment meted out to the innocent elephants kept in chains and provided with a pittance in the name of food, water and other necessary life-sustaining items in comparison to the fat income that these voiceless animals fetch to their owners who, with their powerful clout, seem to be well linked to, from local politicians to State departments that are supposed to protect these gentle giants.

The elephants develop diseases such as arthritis, bone infection, fever, swelling, foot-sore, eye-sore and even tuberculosis due to malnourishment, shoddy treatment, exposure to sun heat and brutal beatings with iron rods and bull-hooks from the mahouts and owners to force them obey their commands.

During post-screening discussion participants spoke about what needs to be done in order to free these animals from [in]-human captivity. A participant pointed out the poignancy that when there is no fellow feeling for human beings, should one hope that they would treat animals fairly.

However, there were reasoned voices like that of one participant who requested that at least all those present should take a pledge “not to ride elephants or any other animal” for fun. There were discussions about legal aspects of protections of animal rights.

However, what surprised everyone is that despite available legal protections there existed a nexus between the caretakers and the Government officials that made laws toothless. It was also said that the Government should stop advertising animals to woo foreign tourists who take great pleasure in riding them and pay huge money which goes to different hands.

While atrocities on animals continue one wonders whether Animal Welfare Board of India will take stock of the situation and whether World Organization for Animal Health will pressurize the authorities to place a curb on joy ridings. While watching the film I was reminded of a beautiful Urdu couplet of Hafeez Meerathi that captures the pain and agony of these poor captive animals who can’t even narrate their stories: Zanjeerein to hat jayengi, haan unke nishaan rah jayenge, Mera kya hai zaalim tujhko badnaam karengi zanjeerein. (Although these chains will be removed, they will leave their ugly mark/My life will somehow pass away, but these chains will score you a poor mark.)

The film has been shown in Rajasthan, Delhi and Kolkata and it has been officially selected by Hyderabad World Film Festival 2017 beginning from 19 March, 2017. The objective of screening the documentary in different cities is to create awareness to “do justice with elephants”, says Kornetzky.

The Germany-born, US-educated Swiss Ambassador for Captive Elephants, FIAPO, India, Kornetzky demands that the Hathi Gaon (Elephant Village) in Jaipur from where elephants are supplied for business and entertainment to places like the Amber Fort should be closed down because “the stalls for the elephants are designed and built wrong”, with no greenery or big trees for the poor animals who can’t even communicate with their own group as they are isolated from their group. With most of elephants being sick, there is no proper treatment for them.

All they have are unqualified physicians or quacks whose treatment cause more pain to the already suffering elephants than provide them relief from the continuous torture as the film shows.

For example the elephant Sita, the central part of the document, undergoes huge suffering due to strange kind of treatment in which her foot pad is burnt and pastes of chillis, salts and other burning additives are applied on the poor animal’s wounds.

The visually stunning and painful stories send shock waves down the spine. Veterinarian Sunil Chawla of Human Society International whose statement is recorded in the documentary, says, “It does not matter if the elephant is suffering or dying, by the end of the day, they elephant owner will get the money from the insurance company”.

Alive or dead, the elephant brings the owner huge money. What it does not bring, is a few hundred rupees for its own relief even when it is under the dire need of treatment. The elephant is a protected species in India. Its purchase is illegal. But new techniques are used to flourish their business. They don’t sell the elephants, but give them in gift. However, undercover, they take the money. Timmie Kumar of Help in Suffering is moved at the pain of Sita and feels that there is no salving of conscience. She appeals the owner that if he can’t treat the dying voiceless animal he should at least pray for its death.

Finally, Sita is euthanized. But there are many Sitas awaiting liberation from daily abuse, disgrace and excruciating pain. As most elephants suffer from various diseases including behavioural stress disorder, it is high time the authorities paid attention to the gravity of the situation before many more Sitas, Lakshmis, Annos and numerous other innocent animals are made to suffer for no fault of theirs.

(Manzar Imam is a Delhi-based freelance journalist. He can be reached at 

Date04 March, 2017


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