It is an image that lends itself to social media outrage and sad emoticons – an elephant standing half-submerged, about to die with an unborn baby inside her womb, after eating a pineapple stuffed with firecrackers that exploded in her mouth.
Among all the broken heart emoticons and calls for the perpetrator to be brought to justice, we ignore the fact that what he did is what we have traditionally done to animals – inflict cruel deaths upon them after winning their trust.
Hunters lure animals with bait. Rats are trapped with bait. Dogs are poisoned after being tempted to eat. Since time unknown, we have been exploiting one of the most basic animal instincts – hunger – to cause death for entertainment, pleasure, and perceived safety.
The person or people whom the law is on the lookout for did what has been traditionally done to protect crops from wild boar – stuff fruit with explosives.
There is no justice to be served now.
Justice would have been for this never to have happened.
Justice would have been for the firecrackers to explode in the arms of the brute or brutes when they were being stuffed into the pineapple.
Justice would have been for people not to have had access to firecrackers at a time when most of the world is struggling to access food.
Justice would have been for this elephant to be left free in a world whose cruellest species is under siege from a virus, for this elephant to enjoy that temporary freedom like so many other animals which roamed their habitat unhindered by human movement for those few weeks.
After sharing that image, we will go back to images of dalgona coffee, made with milk that was also obtained by unspeakably cruel means from another animal parent, a lactating cow. We will not speak of the newborn calves that were starved so we could make our coffee, we will not speak of the male calves sent to the slaughterhouse, we will not speak of dead calves that are stuffed with hay in order to trick their mothers into producing more milk to nourish them.
The world as we know it today runs on the industrialisation of cruelty to animals. From the exploitation of bears in bile farms and beagles in laboratories, we have appropriated animal lives for the use of our species. Even with a microorganism bringing the world to its knees, we continue to reinforce speciesism everyday. Countless animals are being incarcerated and infected with the coronavirus in our failed attempts to find a vaccine to fight a disease we brought upon ourselves and which we entirely deserve.
We don’t speak of the animal exploitation involved in bullock cart races and bloodsport like jallikattu, which people and politicians have been fighting to hold because they believe animal rights are an affront to tradition and culture.
We don’t speak of zoos, which are hardly any different from circuses where animal performance has only recently been banned.
Zoos drag animals from their natural habitats and stuff them into metal and glass cages for the entertainment of another species. We call it educational, and we claim we are teaching children about preservation and nature by bringing them close to animals. What we are actually doing is reducing animals from magnificent and rare beings that can only be found in their natural habitats to showpieces in a cage that children can throw peanuts at.
This world has space for mothers who don’t have to worry about protecting their young – human mothers can feel free to allow their children to climb into animal enclosures, because endangered animals can be killed in order to avoid risk to suicidal children and their negligent parents.
And then there are other mothers who are trapped in zoos, give birth in zoos, and kill their newborns – there have been documented cases of elephants trampling their newborn calves, either from madness or from an attempt at euthanasia, because instinct has told them to spare their children the horror of growing up in captivity.
We don’t speak of the drugged tigers that humans can pose for pictures with in Thailand, so that creatures which wouldn’t stand a chance against a tiger in its natural habitat can feel brave and collect likes on social media.
We don’t speak of the deforestation and habitat loss that is wiping out animal species across the world.
We don’t speak of lucrative coffee plantations using electrified fencing to get rid of the elephants whose homes they have snatched.
We don’t speak of the trains that cut through elephant corridors and run over elephants on their way.
We don’t speak of elephant captivity in temples. Like tigers, elephants cannot be tamed. The only way they can become submissive is for the little ones to be separated very early from their mothers, causing enormous pain on either side, and then beaten and starved to show them that they are dependent on the humans controlling them.
For all the talk of inequality among humans in terms of race and class and caste and gender, inequality among species is something we take for granted.
Watching images of the pregnant elephant sinking her mouth into the water for some relief from the pain, I find myself glad she died and glad her baby never had to glimpse the ugly world that was waiting for him.
More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:
Nobel for economist, tailspin for economy
Why the Diaspora has so much love to give
Hindi debate: We are all obsessed with homogeneity
We are choking the earth
When Kamal Haasan endorsed harassment
The Dalai Lama and the death of humour
The delusionary Indian intellectual
India's culture of worship has to end
Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com