In human history, there often come great doings of unconscious evil into the world. While we take out our brutality on one another in grotesque crimes, there is something about animals that inspires a deeper compassion. They know nothing of geopolitics and genocide, and can only be helpless observers and victims, like human children, when mass violence unfolds.
But the mob mentality that leads people to kill each other is still commonly used against the animal world. Right now, someplace, in some town or suburb, a circle of kids is torturing a poor animal to death. It’s just part of our human nature to destroy, to seek catharsis through violence and victory over other organisms.
Photographer Biplab Hazra captured this grim scene in West Bengal, aptly titling it “Hell is Here”.
Hazra won the 2017 Sanctuary Wildlife Photographer of the Year award for his efforts, and he at least has some sliver of good news. Speaking to the Indian Express, he told reporters that the baby elephant, caught flame from projectiles tossed by the mob, “somehow survived”. Sanctuary Magazine wrote that a “crowd of jeering men” tossed “flaming tar balls and crackers” at the two elephants, for unknown reasons. Perhaps fear, perhaps catharsis.
The magazine also said: “In the Bankura district of West Bengal, this sort of humiliation of pachyderms is routine, as it is in the other elephant-range states of Assam, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and more.”
It reminds me of a scene in Stephen King’s The Mist, when all the characters are holed up in a convenience store, and begin stabbing a soldier they believe to be behind the mist that has forced them into hiding. Once one individual stabs him, a crowd of otherwise ‘ordinary’ persons join in and also stab him to death, representing the banality of evil in cruel form.
A massive 30,000 elephants live in India, and 800 animals are known to live in the state of West Bengal. Hostilities with humans have become increasingly common as a result of deforestation. Christy Williams, the director of World Wildlife Fund in Myanmar, said: “There are forests being cut down, degraded, and also being fragmented by development like new roads and pipelines.”
When elephants and humans meet, often inhumane violence follows. Elephants are huge, and without massive swathes of untouched forest, they find themselves on roads and among villages. Williams added: “In the end, humans always win, whatever the species, however powerful it is.”
After all that, I think you’ll appreciate this stunning image of a baby elephant, who looks cute and also totally not of this Earth. Elephants are such strange creatures, giant land-squid with rhinoceros bodies.
“Hell is Here” is a powerful image for capturing such violence as it unfolds, in raw form. Setting a baby elephant on fire must be among the top twenty most evil things possible to do on Earth. What do you think? Will elephants still be around for your grandchildren? Should India strive to leave more land undeveloped to preserve the habitats of Indian elephants and other large land animals who need more uninterrupted space? Or will endless capitalist development ensure that the elephant lives in urban areas more and more often?