Roofs leak, mud walls ooze moisture inside hutments; unequal access to toilets at Dubare Elephant Camp
Kushalnagar: Dubare Elephant Camp in Kodagu District might be a tourist spot for many that earns handsome revenue both to the Tourism and Forest Departments, but the living conditions of the Mahouts and Kavadis in the camp are miserable.
Unfortunately, the elephants that are the star attraction during Dasara are meticulously cared for by Mahouts and Kavadis, the people themselves are ignored and their legitimate demands are kept in abeyance.
Fed up by the negligence of successive Governments, the Mahouts and Kavadis team have taken a hard stance that they will boycott this Dasara unless their demands are met. They are ready to send the elephants — a Government property — for Gajapayana on Aug. 7, but are refusing to accompany them for the festivities.
Mostly from the Jenukuruba community, these Mahouts and Kavadis live in small huts covered with hay and tarpaulin sheets. The huts are broken and the roofs leak. When it rains, the mud walls ooze water due to excess moisture and toilets and electricity are a luxury here.
While houses that have been provided as quarters have no such problem, the houses built by Panchayat are in pathetic condition. The residents are devoid of all the facilities including a good education, healthcare and free ration. The condition of elephant handlers in other camps like Mathigodu, Rampura and H.D. Kote are no better, say Mahouts.
76 families at Dubare
At Dubare, there are 76 families living in 44 houses including some retired Mahouts and Kavadis. There are 31 Mahouts and 31 Kavadis in the roles of the Forest Department. They take care of 32 elephants including the one elephant that was rescued recently. There are over 30 children who go to Government Schools barefoot and they have no access to good education.
While children from classes 1 to 5 go to Dubare Primary School, children above the fifth standard go to schools at Nanjarayapatna and Kushalnagar. All of them have to cross the Cauvery River using boats and it is a risky affair when the River is in full spate. There are many instances where the boats have broken down in the middle of the river and children clinging on to them, waiting for rescue.
Even the elephants suffer from poor living conditions, being forced to do heavy wood-lifting tasks and only a selected few receive royal treatment for over two months inside the Mysore Palace during Dasara.
Low pay for high-risk job
Mahouts get low pay for a high-risk job, with many suffering injuries and having little financial security. Sadly, they do not know any other means of livelihood except for taking care of and communicating with these gentle giants. Most of the elephant rearers have inherited the job from their fathers.
While there are only 11 Government quarters where there are facilities like toilets, the rest of them live in huts and they just have three-sided small walls to call them toilets. One side of the wall is covered by a bed sheet and the residents have to sneak inside for their ablutions. Many men and women prefer to defecate in the open after dark. Some of the houses are broken by elephants during attacks and no step has been taken by the Panchayat to repair them.