CONCEPT: 5/5 WRITING: 4/5 OVERALL: 5/5
Introduction to the author
Sangita is an Indian-Canadian author and filmmaker, who rose to international recognition through her documentary film, Gods in Shackles. The documentary received multiple awards and screenings. Sangita recorded her experiences throughout the making of the documentary, and some more insights into her life in this book.
What does it talk about?
One may have a fair idea that elephants are used in temples across South India to carry the idol of the god during processions. Later, devotees also feed the elephants, interact with them, and some even donate to them. Sangita, through her investigations, uncovers the torture these animals are subjected to, in the name of culture. The religion in the name of which this is done treats elephants royally and revers them.
While talking about Asian elephants in general, Sangita details how elephants are harassed even beyond temples. But the primary focus of the book is temple elephants. She narrates the daily schedule of various temple elephants, emphasizing how they don’t get to do any of the things they would do in the wild. It isn’t an easy documentary to make but she found her calling and knew that she had to do it.
Other than elephants
Apart from elephants, Sangita also gives a few snippets of her life and childhood. She elaborates on one case of releasing a temple elephant into a sanctuary, involving India’s tiring legal process, corruption and politics. She talks about the obstacles on her way to making the elephants’ suffering public – be it the threat to her life in speaking against a widely accepted practice or getting approvals to screen her documentary or finding the right resources.
The author and other animal activists named in the book are doing a great job. To gather attention to this issue is one thing and to fight for rehoming these elephants is another.
The author writes about each elephant with immense empathy. For her, they are living things and not anybody’s possession.
Animal activism is not a suitable job for the Indian woman, as the author rightly points out. It is great that today we have many women working directly with wildlife but we need to acknowledge that they don’t have it easy. Sangita excellently compares the temple elephants to women in India. Both are to be respected as per religion but remain chained to social and cultural norms.
The language, narration, and information given in the book are very simple so you don’t need to be a wildlife expert to read this. I would suggest this book to anyone, especially animal lovers and wildlife enthusiasts.
Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of Gods in Shackles using the link below.