How Did We Manage to Turn the Pregnant Elephant’s Death in Kerala into a Hindu-Muslim Issue?


How Did We Manage to Turn the Pregnant Elephant’s Death in Kerala into a Hindu-Muslim Issue?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The horrific death of a pregnant elephant in Kerala has become the subject of national news, after it emerged that the animal died after eating a pineapple stuffed with firecrackers. While the elephant’s suffering is tragic enough, it has been made worse by misinformation and needless communalisation also being spun into the narrative surrounding the incident. What began with misreporting of the facts – including the district where the incident occurred and the details of how the elephant ingested the explosive-laced pineapple – soon snowballed into another nasty debate between two sides more concerned with putting down the other than the subject at hand – the way India treats its wildlife.

Maneka Gandhi, a BJP Lok Sabha member and animal rights activist, initially claimed in an interview that the incident took place in Malappuram, which she termed “the most violent district in the country”, and that locals had fed the elephant the lethal fruit. However, this was not the case at all. “It’s murder. 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 & dogs die at one time.” Malappuram, as it turns out, is a Muslim- majority district. But Gandhi did not get her facts correct. The incident was reported from the Silent Valley in Attappadi, Palakkad. Even so, this fake bit of news began to spread, with Union Minister for Environment Prakash Javadekar amplifying the message.

Once leaders like Gandhi and Javadekar put the misinformation into the public domain, it became fodder for many to turn the elephant’s demise into another Hindu versus Muslim issue, as Twitter user Vivek Nambiar pointed out.

In no time, the incident became fodder to attack the minority community.

Unfortunately, this was not an unexpected turn of events in India, where even the coronavirus pandemic received a communal colour in the media, both online and mainstream.

Thankfully, not everyone bought into the false narrative. The forest department’s investigation into the matter brought more facts to life, allowing people to counter the false claims that there was a religious angle to the elephant’s death.

Meanwhile, others called out Maneka Gandhi’s claim that Malappuram was India’s most violent district by comparing its crime statistics with those from her own constituency, Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh.

Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan addressed the issue of the elephant’s death, but also noted that it was being given an unnecessary spin by certain parties. He called out those twisting the narrative of the elephant’s death for having misplaced priorities.

What the tragic story of this elephant’s death has shown is that in India any issue can become fertile ground for communalisation to spring from, even if it had nothing to do with it in the first place.