PALAKKAD: Two years ago he roamed the wilderness, enjoying freedom, eating food of his choice and bathing in the cool streams winding through the forest. He used to stray into the human habitations bordering the woods and raid the crops, spreading fear among the villagers. He killed nine people including five tribals. But he was venerated by the tribals as an incarnation of God.
Two years after being caught and shackled, he still lives in the hearts of the tribals in Attappady who adore him for the blessings he showered on them. Peelandi, the wild tusker of Attappadi, who has been languishing in captivity at Kodanad in Ernakulam district for the past two years, has at last regained his tribal identity. He was named after Peelandi, a tribal youth was killed by him.
However, the Forest Department changed his name to 'Kodanad Chandrasekharan' after his year-long domestication training at a temporary kraal. The change in name had hurt the Adivasis who believed his tribal link was erased. Succumbing to the pressure from the community, the Forest Department has issued an order changing the tusker’s name as ‘Peelandi Chandru’, honouring the tribals’ sentiments
For tribals, Peelandi was Daivam, Swami
Peelandi used to raid the paddy fields, trample the banana plantations and uproot trees. But he was ‘Daivam or Swami’ for the tribals. For they claim the fields used to yield bumper crops after his raids. And they say he never returned to a field raided once. And the tribals say his killings were accidental. When he was captured, they cried as if they lost a family member. A group of tribals took a six-hour journey to Kodanad a few months after his capture to get his blessings.
The tribals said it was complaints from the settler farmers, who called him a rogue, that led to his capture. “The renaming of Peelandi was an affront to the tribal identity and it reflected the casteist bias of the officials of the Forest Department. They could not digest tribal names like “Peelandi” or “Kuppandi,” said Bobban Mattumantha, Chairman of the District Environment Aikya vedi who had petitioned both Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Forest Minister K Raju in this regard.
Bobban wants to remove the ‘Chandru’ tag from the elephant’s name. “Catching Peelandi was a Herculean task,” remembers, Assistant Range Officer Ajayan. “It took around two months for a 200-strong team to dart the animal and catch him. We brought three Kumkis from Coimbatore and used to follow him with four veterinarians, ambulance. Now he is very obedient and the two mahouts at Kodanad have done a commendable job by taming the elephant within a year,” he said.