BOOKS: Gods In Chains

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2005:

Gods In Chains
by Rhea Ghosh
Foundation Books
(4764/2A, 23 Ansari Rd., Daryaganj, New Delhi 110002, India),
2005. 239 pages, hardcover. $20.00.

Rhea Ghosh, of Boston, Massachusetts, spent the summer of
2004 researching the status of working elephants in India,
commissioned by the Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Centre in
Bangalore, Karnataka state, India.
Gods In Chains is the 230-page record of her findings, including her
detailed recommendations for changes in the elephant-keeping regimen,
and extensive appendices containing much of her source material.
Ghosh’s observations are heavily derivative of those of Peter
Jaeggi, who has observed captive elephants in India since circa
1990. The extent to which Jaeggi’s commentary has influenced Ghosh
is evident from comparing her text to the two Jaeggi articles
included among the appendices, “Chained in Delhi” and “Living Gods
in a living hell.”

The Jaeggi articles might just as well have constituted the
first part of the book, as Ghosh offers very little original insight
about the present state of elephant care and the recent deterioration
of the once lifelong bond between mahouts and their elephants.
As Jaeggi pointed out in 2003, an elephant today may have a
new mahout almost every year–or even more often, if either the
elephant or the elephant owner is particularly difficult.
However, while Jaeggi more thoroughly and originally
diagnosed the plight of Indian elephants, Ghosh offers much more
extensive suggestions about what might be done to help them, within
the present framework of Indian law and culture, and within present
Indian technological capacity.
Ultimately, Ghosh would like to abolish captive elephant-keeping.
Elephants who for whatever reason must be removed from the wild would
be kept at spacious sanctuaries.
However, Ghosh recognizes that Indian cultural pressure to
use and display elephants for a variety of ceremonial and symbolic
purposes is unlikely to disappear within the present generation,
though the use of elephants for strictly practical purposes long
since faded out. Logging elephants remain in use only to
approximately the extent that workhorses still exist on U.S. farms.
Elephants today work by standing outside temples, marching in
parades, and hauling tourists.
As the numbers of captive elephants today are comparatively
few, and could be tracked by methods no more complicated than a
check-in system making use of the ubiquitous Indian internet cafes,
Ghosh recommends establishing an online elephant tracking system,
which would be much more efficient and effective that the present
paper tracking system, and could prevent many abuses. Ghosh also
favors a system wherein captive elephants, like their wild kin,
would remain property of the state, not of individuals, although
those now in private hands might stay where they are now, if not
abused.

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