Return crying babies to weeping mothers!

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated –– Mahatma Gandhi

A shocking 'abduction' was reported from Pinnawala on Saturday. The army and the police were deployed to tear two tiny baby elephants from their protesting mothers at the behest of Minister of Sports and Recreation Gamini Lokuge, who granted Diyawadane Nilame Nilanga Dela's wish that the little jumbos be donated to the Asgiriya and Malwatte Temples.

The aggrieved mothers furiously resisted the heartless bipeds' effort to remove their precious sucklings that needed their warmth, love and protection. The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage personnel were reduced to helpless onlookers. A battle of sorts was fought and finally the weeping mothers were forced to give in and their babies taken to Kandy with difficulty.

Would Minister Lokuge ever have allowed such a fate to befall his children? How would Nilanga have felt if he had been separated from his mother while he was still being suckled?

Both Minister Lokuge and Diyawadana Nilame must be ashamed of their conduct which is unbecoming of their positions. Why were they in such an elephantine hurry to take away the tiny jumbos? A baby elephant, as is known to all wildlife officers, is not to be separated from its mother until it turns five years and its removal requires permission from the Department of Wildlife, which reportedly did not authorise Saturday’s abduction operation. There has been a serious breach of law and it is hoped that animal rights activists will take the culprits to court.

It is unfortunate that elephants are being ill-treated in this manner in a country which has, through ages, been compassionate towards animals, though they are being slaughtered and gobbled up in their thousands today as a national pastime. This is the first country to have put elephants in 'shoes' even before humans had that luxury in most other lands. When earthen bunds of huge reservoirs were built, ancient kings had the legs of pachyderms covered with thick hides to prevent injury! Even the much maligned King Elara, we are told, had his own son executed for having killed a calf due to his recklessness. What kind of punishment he or any other king with a sense of justice would have meted out to Lokuge and Nilanga for their cruel act is not difficult to imagine.

The two baby jumbos in agony longing for motherly care must be returned to their grieving mothers forthwith. It behoves the Maha Nayake theras of the Asgiriya and Malwatte Temples, as followers of the Compassionate One, whose love for all beings knew no bounds, to intervene kindly to right the elephantine wrong committed in the name of the most venerated Buddhist shrine where lies the sacred tooth relic.

A wise decision

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's decision to release nearly two thousand military deserters, including many officers, who were serving jail terms after being court-martialled, is salutary. They certainly violated the law by deserting the armed forces at a time the country needed their service most but many of them did so for want of a better alternative. They had no way of having their problems solved and even obtaining leave for visiting their families became next to impossible. Time was when they were left with only a single day to spend with their families by the time they finally made it home after travelling for days from the operational areas. They also had numerous domestic problems and it is not surprising that they finally voted with their feet. Similarly, there were rogue elements among them and they took to crime bringing the armed forces into disrepute. It is heartening that deserters convicted of criminal activity have not been released.

Deserters without a criminal track record had to be released for several reasons. They had made some contribution towards battling terrorism; their stay in prisons exposed them to the evil influence of the scum of the earth looking for an opportunity for networking; able-bodied persons capable of serving the country in some way should not be kept in jail at the expense of tax payers and, above all, ex-military personnel must not be made to languish behind bars while many LTTE combatants are being rehabilitated and released.

However, there is a pressing need for the released deserters' movements to be monitored. Most of them are battle-hardened and the underworld teems with weapons of all kinds. It was a group of ex-military personnel who staged the biggest ever heist in the country the other day. All deserters should not be tarred with the same brush but in dealing with persons trained to handle weapons, caution pays. As deserters cannot rejoin the armed forces, serious thought should be given to retraining them for some other vocations. Their rehabilitation consists in their re-employment.

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