Sangita Iyer’s documentary “Gods in Shackles” reveals the brutality behind the scenes of Kerala’s (a state in southeast India) beloved temple elephants. The captive elephants look beautiful, decorated ornately for the numerous religious parades, which occur in the hundreds between the months of December and May. Yet, behind the glamour, most elephants are shackled and beaten to become submissive. Between 2012-2015 175 captive elephants died – causes of death include dehydration, starvation, abuse, and lack of veterinary care.
Some of these captive elephants are owned by the temples and others are privately owned and are rented out for the religious festivities. Although it is illegal in India to take elephants from the wild, many of them were wild elephants that were smuggled to Kerala from different states in India.
The law often looks the other way when it comes to temple elephants. Elephants are revered participants in the Hindu festivals, and filing lawsuits or putting fines on temples would be controversial, to say the least.
Iyer hopes her documentary will raise awareness. Many festival goers are unaware of the practices, and are horrified when they see the truth. She is pleased that some prominent Hindu priests are now beginning to speak out against elephant abuse, saying that it clearly conflicts with Hinduism being a religion of peace.
Here is a 4 minute interview with Iyer from CTV News: