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Sangita Iyer, a former broadcast journalist in Bermuda, has led the charge for elephant conversation after her groundbreaking documentary, Gods in Shackles.
"So many elephants had ghastly wounds on their hips, massive tumours and blood oozing out of their ankles, because chains had cut into their flesh and many of them were blind," Iyer told the BBC. She has made a documentary, Gods in Shackles, in an attempt to draw attention to the treatment of temple elephants she saw in India. "They were so helpless and the chains were so heavy," she said. "It was absolutely heart-breaking for me to witness this."
Sangita Iyer says the death of this pregnant elephant is symbolic of the perennial problems that have been long ignored. “The laws certainly have several loopholes, and the elephant owners know all too well how to exploit them. Kerala’s Captive Elephant Management Rules are flawed because there are no specific penalties associated with violations.”
"The elephants are losing their habitat, because more and more people are encroaching into their habitat. And with development whole forests are being fragmented. Through the forest they are creating railways, and national highways, with absolutely no regard to these animals who have been living there for eons," says our Founder Sangita Iyer
A special practical training programme which was facilitated by environmentalist Sangita Iyer was also instrumental in bringing this change. Major changes are seen with the introduction of positive reinforcement training for the pachyderms.
This is not the first time Sangita, who was honoured by the country by presenting the Nari Shakti Puraskar, which is the highest civilian honour for women in India, has faced the ire of festival lobby groups. Ever since the release of her film, she has faced cyber-bullying, and veiled and explicit threats.
A committee to protect wild elephants, called Mathanga Manava Maithiri Samithi has been formed in Kerala, following the highly successful Gentle Giant Summit that took place between November 15-17, 2019
One of the most enlightening presentations at the Summit was by the Deputy Police Superintendent from Trissur - Kerala’s hub - where the elephant entertainment industry is thriving. He talked about crowd control —- controlling the festival committee and participants —- they are openly flouting the laws of the land. He repeated that the only way to end this is through awareness campaigns. VFAES is working closely with the Kerala Police.
The Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) is planning to erect a power corridor, creating a safe passage for wild elephants. This was one of the outcomes discussed at The Gentle Giant Summit, which was inaugurated by the former Minister of Forest, Binoy Viswam, and the State Police Chief of Kerala, Mr. Lokanath Behera.
In the film, Iyer suggests we identify with their suffering because it touches some hidden pain of our own, an that idea resonated with me. I knew from my own experience loving animals, and elephants in particular, that compassion for another being can help unearth and even heal these hidden wounds.
A devoted Hindu, Iyer argued that there are no Hindu scriptures purporting such appalling treatment of elephants – the most tolerant, intelligent and social animals – to make Lord Jagannath happy. “In fact, the Lord would shed tears of blood and curse those who inflict such suffering on His Divine creations,” she said. It is a four-day perilous journey, that will cause unimaginable suffering to these sentient beings, as they will be inside a goods train container with absolutely no air conditioning or other ventilation provisions.
Through films that touch the heart and petitions that force the brain to think, Sangita and VFAES have been fighting for the rights and protection of elephants in India. Although the journey has been deeply fulfilling, there have been insane challenges to overcome as well. “Old habits die hard, and it is tough to change the cultural attitudes that have seeped into people’s minds for over centuries. When I began to speak out against the exploitation of elephants in festivals, the festival mafias began to call me an enemy of culture and sent harassing emails to intimidate me,” she mentions.
Speaking to Express, a senior officer in the state government said there is already one organisation - Voice for Asian Elephants - which has approached the state seeking permission to work with the government. The state has given them the nod to work with Devaswoms and private elephant owners. It is necessary to foster a good relationship between elephants and mahouts as it has more implications in the modern time, he said.
The Kerala media is crediting Gods In Shackles - An Epic Documentary for the recent order from the CWLW the amazing Surendra Kumar, for enforcing the existing Kerala Captive Elephant Management Rules that ban elephant parades between noon and 4:00 PM. He said, “Temple people make a lot of money by parading elephants. For them, it’s business. For us, it’s protecting lives”. I’m deeply honoured that we’re still creating waves even after 2.5 years of our movie release. Indeed the movement is only getting stronger.
P.R. Ramesh, senior doctor at Arya Vaidya Sala, Kottakkal where the event was held, told The Hindu: "the film has touched me so deep that I not only sympathize for our temple elephants, but also feel like doing something to save them from the bestiality of our society."
Our founder Sangita Iyer's intervention application filed in November 2017 to end elephant elephant slavery was heard this past Friday in the SUPREME COURT OF INDIA -the MOST POWERFUL AND HIGHEST CONSTITUTIONAL COURT WITH THE POWER OF JUDICIAL REVIEW. You can read details of her ecological and biological arguments in this online article publised on LIVE LAW. The Chief Wildlife Warden of Kerala has been directed to provide an affidavit in response to the suggestions offered in an addendum. It will be heard on the 12th of February 2019.
In an interview with the Express, the Canadian filmmaker with her roots in Kerala, detailed her resolve and reasons to be part of the Kerala Women’s Wall campaign.
In an emotional telephone interview, Iyer — an award-winning TV reporter and anchor — said the movement to protect Asian elephants is picking up speed. Images of elephant abuse from her film are now part of a case before the Supreme Court of India, which is considering banning the use of elephants in cultural and religious rituals, she said.
"One of the most notable speakers at this year’s conference is Sangita Iyer, founder of the non-profit organization Voice for Asian Elephants Society. Sangita is a native of India, and an award-winning journalist and wildlife documentary filmmaker. She is the director and producer of the globally acclaimed documentary Gods In Shackles, which was nominated at the United Nations and has garnered over a dozen international awards. Sangita has gained recognition throughout India for her courage in exposing the plight of captive elephants, who are continuously exploited for profit behind the veil of culture and religion."
"Stop people from "donating" elephants to temples. They are not commodities, these are living and breathing beings, just like you and me. If people genuinely cared for or loved their elephants, they would grant them the most basic right - freedom," says Sangita Iyer, who has been a critique about the harsh treatment of Kerala temple elephants.
Sangita Iyer, who was born and raised in Kerala and made an award-winning 2016 film, Gods in Shackles, revealing what goes on behind the scenes at the festivals, is convinced greed is to blame. “Elephants are allowed to die so the owners can receive the payouts. There’s a whole insurance industry surrounding this, in which the owners and brokers make the most profit.”
"Elephants also need a daily intake of 150-200 litres of water, necessary to soften the food. But in captivity and during the festivals, they are deprived of water in order to prevent them from urinating or excreting in the temple precincts. This leads to acute dehydration in elephants,” says Ms. Iyer, who had produced and directed Gods in Shackles, a widely acclaimed and touching documentary on the plight of captive elephants.
Their spirits are broken, their bodies are bruised and then they are paraded like zombies to entertain people. They torture God's creations in Gods's own country.
The elephants are privately owned, and postmortem results are never released. Even if we extract the information through the Right to Information Act, the results are concocted and grossly manipulated.
November 11, 2016 - 47th International Film Festival of India – Interview with Sangita Iyer – Director of Gods In Shackles
Sangita Iyer is an Award-Winning Journalist, three-time International Award-Winning Nature and Wildlife Film Maker and the Director of documentary film, “Gods in Shackles”. She has reported and anchored for the ABC/ CBS affiliate in Bermuda, produced Nature and Wildlife reports for the Daily Planet on Discovery Channel Canada, Co-founded the Bermuda Environmental Alliance and is currently a Contributing Writer for The Huffington Post.
July 22, 2016 - Deccan Herald – Award-winning documentary on temple elephants to be screened tomorrow
"Gods in Shackles", an award-winning documentary film that focuses on the life and misery of captive elephants, will be screened in the city on Saturday. The 92-minute-long non-fictional video, shot and produced by Canada-based journalist and wildlife filmmaker Sangita Iyer, was made with one objective: to subvert any fascination for elephants used in processions, temples, entertainment, rides, resorts or circuses.
Sangita Iyer describes her connection with elephants as ‘soulful.’ “On a trip to India in December 2013, I was devastated to see how captive elephants were taken care of. Raw, bleeding wounds on their feet and wounds on their hips as well as being whipped by their mahouts — I saw a little of this and was devastated by it,” said the independent nature and wildlife documentary filmmaker and producer.
July 21, 2016 - Nyoooz – Highlighting the plight of Kerala’s captive elephants
Summary: Sangita Iyer describes her connection with elephants as ‘soulful.’ “On a trip to India in December 2013, I was devastated to see how captive elephants were taken care of. The 92-minute documentary depicts the plight of temple and captive elephants in Kerala and was shot by Sangita and her team in 2014 in Kerala and predominantly features the Thrissur Pooram festival.
July 20, 2016 - The Times of India – Gods in shackles: Plight of temple elephants
It was love at first sight when Sangita Iyer met Lakshmi more than two years ago. The Canadabased documentary filmmaker instantly connected with the elephant, one of the few females found in temples. During a trip in November last year, Iyer was shocked to find Lakshmi’s left eye swollen shut, tears constantly streaming from her eyes.
July 18, 2016 - The Hindu – All for Lakshmi
A powerful feature-length documentary, Gods In Shackles, brings viewers face to face with several uncomfortable truths about how as a society we perceive animals and treat them. Sangita Iyer’s 92-minute film explores the use of Asian elephants in India’s cultural and religious festivals by following elephants highlighting how unsuitable they are for such activities.
July 18, 2016 - Headlines News – We Must Have Elephant Rescue Centres: Maneka Gandhi
New Delhi: Union Women and Child Development Minister and animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi is moved by the appalling evidence of elephant torture and trauma brought out by “God in Shackles”, a critically acclaimed documentary exposing the abuse of Kerala’s captive elephants. She says elephant rescue centres were the need of the hour.”Gods in Shackles”, directed by Canada-based Sangita Iyer, portrays stories behind the veil of Kerala’s prestigious temple festivals.
July 18, 2016 - UC News – Captive Elephants used for commerce, not culture: Docu director
In November 2014, when Toronto based biologist, Sangita Iyer visited “soul-animal” Lakshmi, in her hometown in Kerala, she was devastated to see the elephant reeling under pain having been blinded by her mahout. Lakshmi, is among the many elephants who are held captive by religious authorities in Kerala to be used in the state’s globally popular temple festivals.
July 17, 2016 - Press Trust of India – Elephants captivated for commerce, not culture: Docu dir
In November 2014, when Toronto based biologist, Sangita Iyer visited her “soul-animal” Lakshmi, in her hometown in Kerala, she was devastated to see the elephant reeling under pain having been blinded by her mahout.
July 17, 2016 - Let Us Publish – Must watch – Gods in Shackles Documentary
Gods in Shackles is a 92-minute documentary film that explores the use of Asian elephants in India’s cultural festivals and temples. It was nominated at the United Nations & Jacksonhole Film Festival in New York March 3rd, and has won six international film festival awards within the first three months in 2016.
July 17, 2016 - Business Standard – We must have elephant rescue centres: Maneka Gandhi
Union Women and Child Development Minister and animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi is moved by the appalling evidence of elephant torture and trauma brought out by “God in Shackles”, a critically acclaimed documentary exposing the abuse of Kerala’s captive elephants. She says elephant rescue centres were the need of the hour.
July 17, 2016 - Daily World – We must have elephant rescue centres: Maneka Gandhi
New Delhi, July 17 : Union Women and Child Development Minister and animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi is moved by the appalling evidence of elephant torture and trauma brought out by “God in Shackles”, a critically acclaimed documentary exposing the abuse of Kerala’s captive elephants. She says elephant rescue centres were the need of the hour.
There are all kinds of film festivals. But it’s nice to know that there is an International Elephant Film Festival, too. Canada-based journalist Sangita Iyer’s film God in Shackles was nominated by this fest – in the United Nations General Assembly – and has won seven international awards so far.
July 16, 2016 - Scroll – Documentary ‘Gods in Shackles’ on temple elephants is an eye-opener
Sangita Iyer’s investigative documentary Gods in Shackles takes on one of Kerala’s sacred cows – the captive elephant that is pressed into service for ceremonies and festivals at several of the state’s temples. The Canadian filmmaker sets most of the documentary in Thrissur, where the annual Thrissurpooram temple festival sees one of the most spectacular pachyderm parades in the world. In this “epicenter of the elephant entertainment industry”, as Iyer labels it, she finds compelling evidence of cruelty and neglect.
July 16, 2016 - The Indian Express – Faith in Fetters: Gods in Shackles highlights the plight of temple elephants
The dark night still covers the sky, but the day has begun for Lakshmi, as she is woken up for a bath in the neighbouring tank filled with contaminated water. Scrubbed by her mahout, she is fed leftover rice before being taken to the Thrissur temple in her shackles, where she is followed by pilgrims during the ritualistic rounds around the sanctum. There is no freedom during the afternoon break either. She lives in constant fear of severe punishment, involving hours of torture and starvation.
July 14, 2016 - Deccan Herald – Tortured in temples
As a child, Sangita Iyer used to go with her grandparents to their family temple in Kerala’s Alathur village which is in Palakkad. It was where she developed a deep bond with the temple’s elephants. Then she moved to Canada, but carried along the memory of these majestic animals tied in chains. It was in December 2013, during one of her home visits, when she was devastated to witness the sad state of these elephants in temples. “There were tumours in their hips, raw bleeding wounds on their legs and tears streaming down their faces. They were deprived of food and water, and still paraded beneath the scorching sun,” recollects Iyer, who has been a video journalist for over 17 years.
July 12, 2016 - The Times of India – Gods in Shackles screened
Sangita Iyer’s documentary Gods in Shackles was screened in Kochi on Monday. The film exposes the unpleasant truths of the ‘elephant business’ in Kerala and has triggered debate among animal lovers as well as temple festival committees all over the state. It shows elephants being ill treated by their mahouts, and beaten mercilessly to tame them down, as a routine practice.
July 9, 2016 - Yahoo Lifestyle – ‘Gods in Shackles’ to be screened in Delhi
New Delhi, July 9 (IANS) “Gods in Shackles”, an award winning documentary on abuse of elephants, will be screened here on July 16. Having received an encouraging reception at screenings held in Boston, Los Angeles, and the Kerala Legislative Assembly, the internationally-acclaimed documentary will be screened in Delhi to raise awareness about cruelties on temple elephants.
July 9, 2016 - Business Standard – ‘Gods in Shackles’ to be screened in Delhi
“Gods in Shackles”, an award winning documentary on abuse of elephants, will be screened here on July 16. Having received an encouraging reception at screenings held in Boston, Los Angeles, and the Kerala Legislative Assembly, the internationally-acclaimed documentary will be screened in Delhi to raise awareness about cruelties on temple elephants.
July 8, 2016 - The Hindu – Plight of pachyderms in documentary frames
God in Shackles , a documentary exposing the torture stories of Kerala’s captive elephants, has drawn critical appreciation from animal activists as well as general public. The maiden screening of the film for public at Kairali theatre, Thrissur, was with tight security against the backdrop of threat from different quarters.
July 8, 2016 - News Experts – “Gods in Shackles”, to be Screened in Kochi
“God in Shackles” a multiple award winning and United Nations nominated documentary exposing the hideous torture stories of Kerala’s captive elephants in the backdrops of the glamorous festivals will be screened for public on July 11 Monday in Audi 4, Cinepolis, Centre Square Mall, M G Road Kochi.
July 6, 2016 - The Times of India – Film on elephant torture to be screened on July 11
Kochi: A documentary on the abuse of elephants, Gods In Shackles, would be screened in theatres across Kochi on July 11 at 4pm on Wednesday. In order to create awareness among the public about the plight of the abused elephants, the documentary, directed by Sangita Iyer, would be screened without an entry fee.
Considered by many Hindus to be the embodiment of Lord Ganesh, the Indian elephant holds a special place in Indian culture – particularly in Kerala, whose ancient temples are famously home to hundreds of captive elephants.
July 2, 2016 - The Economic Times – Culture misused to cover abuse of elephants: Sangita
Thrissur: Sangita Iyer, director of the documentary Gods in Shackles, has said that culture and traditions are being misused used as covers to abuse elephants for mere commercial purposes in Kerala.
July 2, 2016 - The Times of India – Culture misused to cover abuse of elephants: Sangita
Thrissur: Sangita Iyer, director of the documentary Gods in Shackles, has said that culture and traditions are being misused used as covers to abuse elephants for mere commercial purposes in Kerala.
June 30, 2016 - India Today – Gods in shackles: Documentary on elephants at law makers’ doorstep
The elephants are made to stand under the scorching sun on concrete floors for hours, chained and threatened by mahouts with sharp objects.
June 30, 2016 - Manorama Online – ‘God in shackles’: Will Pinarayi end the miseries of captive elephants in Kerala?
Thiruvananthapuram: Putting the focus back on the plight of elephants in Kerala, a documentary on the cruelties against temple tuskers was screened at the state assembly on Wednesday. The question is whether the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government would take any practical steps to end the miseries of these tuskers, without hurting the religious sentiments?
June 30, 2016 - NDTV – ‘Gods In Shackles’: Elephant Agony Reaches Kerala Assembly
Thiruvananthapuram: It was a ‘trunk’ call for Kerala legislators. ‘Gods in Shackles’, directed by Canada-based Keralite Sangita Iyer, is an award winning documentary on how elephants are abused in the name of temple festivals in Kerala. On Wednesday, it was screened in India for the first time in the Kerala Legislative Assembly complex, on the suggestion of the Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan.
May 30, 2016 - Nature World News – Tortured, Starved: Documentary Exposes Abuse of Temple Elephants in Kerala, India
Behind the vivacious religious festivities in India are hundreds of elephants chained to tree stumps, beaten into submission and starved on a daily basis.
Every year from December through May, the state of Kerala, in southern India, experiences a frenzy of religious ceremonies. Millions of people participate in the festivities, which honor various gods. At the center of these celebrations are hundreds of captive elephants, ornately decorated and paraded around temples and along Kerala streets.
May 23, 2016 - Peta – Gods in Shackles
Sangita Iyer was intimidated, chased, and threatened with death. She still fears for her life as she goes head to head with a well-funded industry that has a vested interest in protecting its secrets. But her story has to be told.
December 30, 2015 - Indiaspora – Gods in Shackles | The Endangered Asian Elephant
In June 2013 when I embarked on my journey to India for my father’s first death anniversary, little did I know that I would be guided to serve a grander mission! Although it may sound esoteric to some, I’ve come to believe that this is just the way life unfolds.
December 10, 2015 - The Dodo – Elephant Beaten And Blinded In The Name Of ‘God’
An elephant forced to work at a religious temple in India was beaten so badly by her caretaker that she was left blind. It is the kind of cruelty that befalls hundreds of temple elephants in southern India, says Sangita Iyer, the filmmaker behind ” Gods in Shackles,” a forthcoming documentary about their plight.
September 14, 2015 - The Dodo – Elephants Chained All Day And Night In The Name Of Religion
Today, across Asia, some elephants can be chained day and night at religious temples, say activists. This elephant in Colombo, Sri Lanka, is trying to remove a chain from her feet near the Gangaramaya Buddhist temple.