Death of pregnant animal from pineapple filled with firecrackers sparks anger
The death of a pregnant elephant in Kerala after she ate a pineapple filled with firecrackers has prompted a wave of national outrage across India – while also being co-opted into a sectarian “hate campaign”.
The wild elephant, thought to be 15 years old, died in a river in Silent Valley National Park in Kerala’s Palakkad district last week from fatal injuries inside her mouth caused by the explosive-laden fruit.
It is not known when the elephant ate the pineapple and if the killing was premeditated, as local farmers in India’s south often use firecrackers and explosives in fruit in order to protect their land from wild animals.
Mohan Krishnan, a forestry officer, posted an emotional apology on social media. “With her mouth and tongue destroyed in the explosion, she paced around hungry without being able to eat. She must have been more worried about the health of the child inside her than about her own hunger,” said Krishnan.
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan confirmed that an investigation was being carried out into the elephant’s death, and that one arrest had been made.
“We want to assure you that your concerns will not go in vain. Justice will prevail,” tweeted Vijayan.
Kerala Forest Department meanwhile pledged that it would “leave no stone unturned to ensure max punishment to the offenders”.
News of the elephant’s cruel demise prompted over 2 million people across the world to sign petitions demanding justice for her death, and everyone from Bollywood stars to politicians and powerful business CEOs to speak out. Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar called the death of the elephant “heartbreaking, inhumane and unacceptable”.
However, the issue took another nasty turn after it was co-opted by rightwing Hindu nationalists, who blamed a Muslim community for deliberately carrying out the killing.
Maneka Gandhi, a member of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), alleged that the elephant had been killed in Malappuram district, which has a 70% Muslim population, despite it being over 50 miles west from River Velliyar in Palakkad where she actually died.
“It’s murder,” said Gandhi, who is a prominent animal rights activist. “Malappuram is famous for such incidents, it’s India’s most violent district. For instance, they throw poison on roads so that 300-400 birds and dogs die at one time.”
Though India is a secular country, since the election of the BJP government led by Narendra Modi in 2014, the persecution of the country’s 200 million Muslims has become rife, and is often stoked by BJP leaders and politicians pushing a Hindu nationalist agenda. The state of Kerala however is governed by the opposition Communist Party of India (Marxist).
Gandhi’s comments prompted chief minister Vijayan to condemn those who had “used this tragedy to unleash a hate campaign. Lies built upon inaccurate descriptions and half truths were employed to obliterate the truth. Some even tried to import bigotry into the narrative”.
A police complaint was also made against Gandhi for allegedly stoking a hate campaign.
Data from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change shows over the past five years, 490 elephants in India died due to unnatural causes, such as electrocution, poaching and poisoning.