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Elephant Talk


"Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character; and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man."  

Arthur Schopenhauer

Hundreds of quotations on cruelty to animals are Internet-available, voiced by persons ranging from Aristotle to Prophet Mohammed and Christ and to present day film stars. One of the most quoted is Mahatma Gandhi’s: "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." And what about the Buddha’s compassion to animals? To him all sentient beings are equally deserving of mercy and benevolence and thus one of the five precepts which if observed makes a human being a worthwhile decent person is that of abstaining from doing harm, and in the positive, being good to all living beings. Here animals are prominent.

What’s Cassandra’s conversation

in Elephant Talk?

Readers may wonder what Cass is meandering about this week. Her conversational input is two pronged; on elephants per se and on the symbolic Jumbo. And why? They’ve featured prominently in the past week’s news.

The MTV I programme Face the Nation on Monday 20 January night featured cruelty to animals and its prevention and punishment of offenders, with four animal rights activists vociferous and obvious in their commitment to the welfare of animals. The one man among the three women said someone had killed a bitch, reported the killing to the police, paid a fine of Rs 100, the amount specified in the Animal Welfare Act made law during British colonial rule, which still holds.

The panelists had been invited to discuss the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which has not yet been debated in Parliament. There is hope that with the new President it will be made law soon enough. "The welfare of all farmed animals is protected by the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal. The Act also contains a duty of care to animals - anyone responsible for an animal must take reasonable steps to make sure the animal's welfare needs are met."

Reference was made to our more than two and a half millennia cultural heritage during the TV discussion. We hear pirith chanted on loudspeakers all over the place and devotees flock to temples to observe sil on poya days. But cruelty to animals continues with greater force and intensity, both in rural and urban milieus according to Face the Nation panelists. The worst cruelty is meted out in training animals to perform and in breeding where dog owners make mints of money selling pure bred pups produced through forced pregnancies which endanger the mother bitch.

Then on Tuesday 21 January a daily newspaper had Ven Pahiyangala Ananda Sagara Thera, Dr Sumith Pilapitiya and a couple of other experts on elephants commenting on the cruelty meted out to elephants possessed by individuals and Buddhist temples. Hindu kovils were also mentioned. This is shocking and utterly distressing. It became a status symbol for newly successful politicians and the nouveau riche to own an elephant as a status symbol. Hence the cruel thieving of baby elephants from their mothers and herds and torturous transport to the highest bidder.

Incomprehensible that Buddhist temples are in the racket (derogative word used purposely). It was believed that the Most Ven Prof Belanwila Wimalarathana Thera of the Belanwila temple was killed in 2018 by the elephant Myan Kumara gifted by the Government of Myanmar in 2013. The poor animal, who needless to say had no voice to protest and only met with anger, was transferred to the Dalkadawata Temple in Wadduwa and chained. Doctors’ verdicts were that the monk had fallen so heavily that he had sustained severe internal injuries.

The human elephant conflict rages on both in the jungles and the press. No solution; no mitigation even; and deaths of both animal and human pile up.

The other elephant problem

Cass’ generation of more than three score and ten grew up respecting the green elephant on billboards (very few); on notices and ads (even less) and once or twice seen on a bullock cart ambling along Peradeniya Road in Kandy with the invitation to vote for a particular candidate in a general election. Yes, the brilliant green elephant was the symbol of the United National Party, successor to the Ceylon National Congress, formed with national zeal to gain independence from the British on 11 December 1919. "The UNP was founded on 6 September 1946 by amalgamating three right-leaning pro-dominion parties from the majority Sinhalese community and minority Tamil and Muslim communities."

To Cass, through the years, the well proportioned green pachyderm stood for stalwarts like D S Senanayake and his son Dudley, George E De Silva and so many others with Gamini Dissanayake standing out among all. JR and his ‘garment’ did both right and wrong; Premadasa, the man of the masses, induced fear in us. But humour too because when our car suddenly came to a clearing with neat houses on bare land while we holidayed, we exclaimed "Premadasa was here!" Other landmarks he left in his trail were garment factories and clock towers. We loved the elephant though it got rough treatment from UNPers far different to the Father of the Nation.

Gentleman elephants descending

to ambitious animals

Oh my goodness cries Cass in anguish, what are they doing to that poor animal now? Why are they tearing that dignified elephant who stood for solidity, continuity and yes, even economic stability to the country while the so called socialist Parties and their governments only drained the country’s coffers and brought no progress. On one side of the tug-o-war with the elephant substituting for the kambe or rope are the older Greens led by Ranil W; on the other and pulling stronger are the younger bloods and ginger MPs led by Sajith P. Tradition and yes, admittedly, a stubborn refusal to give up the leadership motivates Ranil. On the other side is raw ambition, impatience, hubris, loud mouths, ingratitude and a kicking at tradition.

The elephant is not as yet torn asunder as Cass writes this piece. Earnest hope is that all concerned will see better with an eye to the future, and compromise to keep the dignified animal in one piece. Opinion among all Cass consulted is that Sajith received the Leader of the Op plum, so he should work cooperatively with Ranil as Leader of the Party. In all this who wins? The pohottuwa rises higher gaining votes.

The soap opera within the August House with actor declaimer Ranjan R induced the picture of a box full of stark secrets involving many MPs in Cass’ mind. Chief female actress Hirunika was riveting in her loud denials. As one TV station cautioned: is The House wasting time on tapes when larger issues threaten the nation, two of them being repayment of massive loans and the COL swamping even those far above the poverty line.

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