Mahouts To Boycott Dasara
We take the highest risk in tiger capture operations and Dasara but our pay is pittance,’ say upset jumbo caretakers
Kushalnagar: Facing years of neglect by the State Government and Forest Department, Mahouts and Kavadis have taken a unanimous decision to boycott this year’s Dasara by not taking their elephants to Mysuru if their immediate demand of a pay hike is not implemented by Aug. 5, two days before Gajapayana (Aug. 7).
At a meeting of Mahouts and Kavadis Association held recently at Dubare Elephant Camp in Kodagu, Mahouts and Kavadis from Dubare, Anekad, Sakrebailu, Rampura and Mathigodu Elephant Camps decided not to take the elephants to Mysuru if their demands are not met.
Association Vice-President J.K. Dhobi, who has been a Mahout for nine years, said that there is severe pay disparity among Forest Department staff and when it comes to elephants, Mahouts and Kavadis take all the risks but are paid meagrely. “We live in broken and leaky huts and we do not have electricity. We are not even provided facilities including education, health and free ration. Our lives were better in 1976 when we used to be treated equally along with Forest Watchers and Guards. Gradually, their pay has been increased manifold but we continue to get less salary,” he rued.
A Mahout gets a basic salary of Rs. 18,600 and a Kavadi gets Rs. 17,000. “This pay is nothing when compared to the risks we take. Elephants and Mahouts lead all the wild elephant, tiger and leopard capture operations and we take the risks while others get better pay and perks. We do all the strenuous work in the elephant camps and ensure that a smooth and systematic Dasara is conducted every year but we are neglected,” he complained.
Association President Ghouse Khan said that while those people who tie the Ambaari on the Howdah elephant get Rs. 10,000 for this small task, Mahouts and Kavadis get the same money for their two-month stay and for an orderly festival inside the Mysore Palace.
“Forest Department officers and Ministers do not value our knowledge and there is no self-respect. Moreover, there are no retirement benefits for us,” he said.
Talking about Dasara, he said that the Government splurges crores of rupees on the festival and the main attraction — Dasara elephants and their caretakers — is neglected.
“We have conveyed our decision and we will await its implementation till Aug. 5. As per our demands, a Mahout’s basic salary must be hiked to Rs. 23,000 and a Kavadi must get Rs. 21,400 as basic pay,” he added.
Over 150 Mahouts and Kavadis attended the meeting. Association office-bearers J.K. Vasantha and Parveen Pasha also spoke.
MLA writes to CM
Meanwhile, Virajpet MLA K.G. Bopaiah has written to CM Basavaraj Bommai this morning, urging him to consider the demands of Mahouts and Kavadis “Several representations have been made to the Government regarding pay disparity of Mahouts and Kavadis and the proposal is kept pending. As a last resort, the Mahouts and Kavadis have decided to boycott Dasara and Jumboo Savari,” the MLA said, urging the CM to look into their issues and direct the officers to address them.