By Sagarica Rajakarunanayake
Pereheras or processions to celebrate Buddhist events are regularly conducted by Buddhist temples. Earlier only few temples had elephants walking in pereheras, but now even small temples have at least one in their pereheras. Yet little heed is paid to the important matter of the proper control of elephants in a humane manner by mahouts, preventing them from running amok. They also fail to pay attention to the need for the mahouts in charge of elephants in pereheras to be sober, strictly prohibiting them from consuming liquor.
In the last two decades or so the number of incidents of elephants walking in pereheras going on the rampage seems to be on the increase. The most recent case was one of the elephants that walked in the recent Bellanwila Perehera. According to an eye witness, as quoted in a leading English newspaper, when the elephant started behaving menacingly the mahout had attacked it, which provoked the elephant to furiously chase after the mahout, creating pandemonium on the streets, damaging vehicles and buildings. About twenty persons running helter-skelter were injured and admitted to the Kalubowila hospital.
Most often mahouts themselves are the cause of elephants going on the rampage, by subjecting them to unprovoked attacks with the dreaded "henduwa" or goad, a vicious point and hook attached to a long rod. The elephant is extremely sensitive to pain and is terrified of the henduwa, which mahouts use liberally to subdue and restrain them.
It must also be said that unprovoked attacks on elephants by the mahouts are invariably due to the drunkenness of mahouts. It is commonly known that a large number of mahouts drink all day and are in a state of intoxication when the perehera begins. Yet, although it is known that mahouts consume liquor all the time, the organizers of pereheras ignore this because it is generally that in order to be able to control an elephant a mahout needs to consume a lot of liquor. Ironically, it is the drunkenness of mahouts and their brutality to the elephants in their intoxicated state that largely leads to violent behavior by elephants in pereheras.
It is commonly known that the law prohibits a person from driving a motor vehicle in a drunken state. This being the case, how is it that mahouts are not checked by the police for drunkenness and are allowed to lead an elephant in a perehera or any other procession on a public road?
It is time that the police enforced the law with regard to the use of alcohol by mahouts leading elephants in pereheras and processions on public roads. The employers of drunken mahouts, and even the perehera organizers, must also be held accountable for the drunkenness of mahouts in pereheras. The fact that a rampaging elephant on a public road can do severe and extensive damage and harm to people and property must not be overlooked.
At the same time, serious consideration must also be given to the protection of the elephant placed under the charge of a drunken mahout. When the elephant goes on the rampage, often due to provocation by the mahout, it must suffer more vicious attacks with the henduwa, in a desperate effort by the mahout to control it. Finally, when the mahout is helpless, the elephant must be tranquilized leaving it open to mishaps such as falling on a concrete surface or sometimes failure to regain consciousness after anaesthetization.
The police must commence without delay the examination of mahouts for the consumption of liquor when leading elephants in pereheras and deal with the errant mahouts in accordance with the law.