While a training programme is still underway for elephants, Mahuts (elephant handlers) and Patawalas (person who gathers fodder and feeds elephants,) a Kunki (trained elephant) trampled to death his Patawala in the Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary in North Bengal on Friday.
The incident occurred at around 7:30am in the Holong Beat of Jaldapara in the Alipurduar District of West Bengal.
27 year old Julius Kharia , the Patawala was returning after giving 22 year old Mainak the trained elephant a bath. When the duo reached Haringhata Watch Tower area, Mainak suddenly threw Kharia on the ground and trampled him. Kharia was immediately rushed to the Alipurduar district hospital where he was declared brought dead.
In the past also Mainak had killed another Patawala Asik Kharia in August 2016. Since then Mainak had been relieved of all duty except collecting fodder for his own consumption.
Kunki's or trained elephants are used for various tasks including chasing away wild elephant herds, capturing and training rogue elephants, clearing roads and lumbering. In Holong they are used for forest safaris also.
The death of the Patawala on Friday has once prompted serious concerns regarding the safety and security of Mahuts and Patawalas. Incidentally most are contractual employees and are not entitled to most of the service benefits.
In the past two years there have been 4 deaths of Mahuts and Patawalas caused by elephants. Jaldapara has 64 Kunki elephants. "It is very unfortunate that a Patawala has been killed. This is why we organize such training camps. These camps empower the handlers to handle the elephants more efficiently. It is all about bonding with the animals" stated Binay Krishna Barman, Minister in charge of Forest.
Incidentally the 5 day long training programme had commenced on November 7. Trainers including world renowned elephant trainer and handler Parbati Barua are attending the programme as a resource person. Barua who hails from Assam is considered as the lone female Mahut in the world.
"We have started an investigation into the incident" stated Ujjal Ghosh, Chief Conservator of Forest, North Bengal.
When asked whether the next of kin of the deceased Patawala will receive ex gratia, Ghosh stated that the department will do everything possible on humanitarian ground but within the legal ambit.
Parbati Barua blamed the incident on lack of experience and expertise. "That is why training is important. More caution should have been exercised as Mainak has a history of killing.
Most of the elephants born in captivity are pampered and behave like spoiled children. Mainak is no exception" stated Barua, talking to Oneindia. However she insisted that elephant handlers should treat elephants as a family member. "Then only their hearts can be won" stated Barua.