Everal elephants with injuries, and a few that were fully or partially blind, were made to participate at the annual Thrissur pooram this week, allege animal activists.
"The elephants had injuries on their feet where they are chained — in some cases the feet appeared to have been tied together - as well as their backs. And despite the rules, they brought visually impaired elephants into the procession," says MN Jayachandran, member, Animal Welfare Board, who was part of the official inspection team that monitored the animals at Sunday's festival.
According to a 2013 state government circular, elephants cannot be made to stand in peak afternoon hours in the open, must be fed water at regular intervals and not paraded more than three hours at a time. "With the pageant continuing over 36 hours, every single rule is flouted at the pooram," says Jayachandran.
The packed festival season this year, and an exceptionally fiery April, has been particularly distressing for the state's elephants. Over the last three months, seven captive elephants have caused eight deaths in the state. Of these, five incidents were reported during temple festivities. The heat, the crowds, the fireworks and drums create an extremely uncomfortable situation for the pachyderms.
Take the example of Venattumattom Unnikuttan, 21: he doesn't know it but he is on forced leave from work.
That meant, till about a fortnight ago, trudging miles on scorching tarred roads every day and standing for hours at temples, often without food, water and rest. After an exhausting stint at a temple festival in Thiruvananthapuram earlier this month, he had resisted being dragged into a canal for a bath and was, according to locals, beaten for being "stubborn". That blistering afternoon, he finally trampled his mahout to death.