Images of the elephant who died a most tragic death in the Palakkad district of Kerala have been doing the rounds lately in what looks like a rousing call of condemnation aimed not towards others but unto ourselves. Messages of such nature concerning what seems to be a gesture of self-reflection have much more to do than just that.
I am not tempted in the least to address the average politician’s favourite sport – ‘politicisation’ which has done considerable damage in the form of rumours, blatant misinformation being passed off as verified reportage, the mainstream media’s show of sensationalism in the guise of a newfound ecological consciousness. What I’m more interested in is how this particular issue has played itself out on that hallowed ground – ‘social media.’
This is not the first time that a nationwide outrage of such propensity especially against the horrific death of an animal(s) has gained traction. In fact, this event has led a lot of people to endorse the phrase – All Lives Matter which is a facile reversal of the Black Lives Matter movement currently taking root in America. To wrench a particular movement out of its identified socio-historical context and subverting what has actually become symbolic against oppression on the basis of colour, in a claim to devalue the former of its power whilst making a hollow claim for ‘humanity’, has consequences.
The unprecedented manner in which people active on social media have herded themselves together in a fight against animal cruelty is problematic precisely because it comes from a position that is easy to identify with since what is offered on the platter is a politically-neutral space.
Condolences flowing in from every discernible direction point at a much deeper problem: one that regulates both our voices and silences.
One that makes it easy for somebody to take heed and indulge in a typical rhetorical banter, the sum of which conventionally comes down to stringent punitive measures for the accused. The presumption that a human being is one, and the same armed with enough reason not to perpetrate instances of such nature, does not sit well with the constantly changing on-ground realities that people find themselves in- People who are involved; people who are subsequently put on trial in the court of the virtual world with the force of a judgement which is already pre-determined.
To say that conversations which soon take the form of filtered judgement in the virtual spaces need not necessarily have long-term (and often devastating) consequences for the ones who are not even a part of these exclusive circles would be to ignore the elephant in the room.
A textbook definition of ‘Humanity’ acting as a rallying cause for the visible outrage ignores one important aspect – that humans remain divided on several grounds, class, caste, race, region, religion to name a few. Should one make the effort to locate precisely these differences, then a more efficient way of addressing the problem at hand becomes possible.
But what happens instead is we are offered a bunch of positions that we eventually come to occupy- positions that are already set in place. What should be a discussion on urgent issues that require long term solutions gets redirected towards a needless duel of what is right and what is not. And there are enough people playing those parts already. Seen in this particular context, one would have to be virtually blind to ignore the growing conflict between farmers who want to protect their crop produce against the rising population of wild boars.
The explosives that resulted in the death of the elephant in question were meant as a protective (although illegal) measure against the frequent attacks from the herd of boars.
What is clearly a question of livelihood gets lost in translation as fruitless debates on morality, ethics, and individual conscience concocted in the interiors of a private space travels outward resulting in a set number of positions up for the taking.
What also works here is the perceived distance that one shares with the events at hand. The more one is removed from the circumstances of a said event, the better the chances are for identifying oneself with the same.
One need not look far from what happened recently as several people from India took to social media protesting against the brutal murder of George Floyd whilst continuing to ignore issues in their immediate social context like the still continuing migrant crisis which has resulted in hundreds of deaths in the face of harsh lockdown measures.
In order to effect a visible change, and to avoid such cruel deaths of animals, one should rather turn their attention to bringing about relevant discussions on reforms that would tackle the issues of co-habitation. An immediate call for punishment of erring officials or people is clearly driven by a question of day-to-day existence only harms the conversation at hand.
What requires intervention from both the central and state government cannot be attributed to an individual(s) being judged by a conscience that is a direct product of particular sections living in affluence and utter comfort, removed from the woes of survival and opinionated enough to lay the blame should the occasion present itself.
An appeal to humanity here ironically leaves out the very humans it is supposed to address. Maybe it is time for us to stop assuming responsibility and start asking the right questions aimed at ourselves.