‘Emotional point’ — why Assam and Tamil Nadu are locking horns over ‘abused’ elephant Joymala
An unlikely tug-of-war has broken out between the governments of Assam and Tamil Nadu over a captive elephant called Joymala.
So fraught has the matter become that the Assam government has stationed a team in Tamil Nadu and is considering legal action against its southern counterpart for the ‘return’ of the animal.
The dispute was triggered when a viral video, purportedly of Joymala, showed her being beaten while chained to the floor of a government-managed temple in Tamil Nadu. The video was tweeted by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on 26 August this year.
Since then, a PETA campaign for Joymala (known as Jeymalyatha in Tamil Nadu) has racked up major social media support, with a range of celebrities — including Sunny Leone, Madhuri Dixit, and Papon — rallying for the elephant’s release by tweeting under the hashtag #FreeElephantJeymalyatha and beyond.
The viral clip, PETA has alleged, is the second video of the animal being allegedly mistreated, with an earlier video having purportedly surfaced in 2021.
Last week, a four-member team constituted by the Assam government arrived in Chennai to inspect Joymala’s condition.
“We had a meeting with the Tamil Nadu chief wildlife warden on 3 September, who clearly said that the case had become an emotional point for the state. The media also became sensitive since it gave a bad name to the state,” said Dr Kushal Konwar Sarma, a Padma Shri recipient and professor at the College of Veterinary Science in Assam. Dubbed the “elephant doctor” of Assam, Sarma was part of the team.
“According to him (the warden), the [viral video] was old and the guilty person had been punished and removed from the job. We were told that we should not visit [the elephant] now and that the Tamil Nadu government would invite us later,” he added.
But the Assam government has told its team to stay put. “The team is still there, they are not willing to release the animal,” Assam’s principal chief conservator of forests and chief wildlife warden M.K. Yadava told ThePrint.
The Assam government has reportedly also written to the Tamil Nadu government for the release of six elephants and is now planning to move the court against it.
On Monday, the Tamil Nadu government attempted to counter the negative publicity, with its Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Department releasing a purported video of Joymala cavorting at the Srivilliputhur Andal Temple in Virudhunagar district. The accompanying caption tagged PETA and said Joymala was “doing good” and that “fake videos” had been circulating on social media.
However, PETA dismissed it as a publicity “stunt” and the Assam government is also unlikely to back down.
Here is a look at the dispute so far and how an elephant from Assam landed up in Tamil Nadu.
A controversy has erupted over how the elephant came to be in Tamil Nadu.
According to news reports, the elephant belonged to a family living in a village in Tinsukia district of Assam.
Her purported keeper in Assam, Girin Moran, has claimed that he sent Joymala to Tamil Nadu on a short lease after completing the necessary paperwork in 2011 (some accounts claim 2008) because he was having trouble feeding her. According to him, she was supposed to be returned within three years, but this did not happen.
However, this version has been contested.
On Twitter, pictures have been circulated of a purported “gift deed”, dated 11 October 2011, with Moran’s name. It mentions that he was relinquishing his claim to the elephant.
“These are illegal transfers. Animals that are legally protected cannot be sold,” Sarma, quoted earlier, told ThePrint.
PETA has maintained that Joymala has been mistreated for a while, citing another video that had surfaced in 2021 of her purportedly being “tied to a tree and beaten” ruthlessly.
“[The] first video of her being beaten at a rejuvenation camp by a mahout and his assistant surfaced in Feb’21. This led TN’s Hindu Religious & Charitable endowments to suspend the mahout involved. However, this did not stop her beatings by new mahout,” the animal rights organisation claimed in a tweet.
PETA India further claimed that its “veterinary inspection” of the elephant on 27 July this year revealed that the animal was being abused by the new mahout.
“On 27 July’22, PETA India’s veterinary inspection of elephant Joymala (Jeymalyatha) revealed the mahout used pliers to painfully twist her skin for control even in front of inspectors,” the tweet read.
A day later, the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department tweeted to deny the allegations and posted its video ostensibly showing the animal “doing good”.
PETA India responded to the tweet and questioned the department about how the videos could be fake when a mahout had been suspended and an FIR also registered in the case. “Yet ele Joyala was never seized per law [sic],” PETA’s tweet read.