Hell is now and here: More than fetching awards, the picture has a message to tell and it seems to be frightening 

Jharkhand based Brick Kiln owner, Biplab Hazra who has been into wildlife photography for over 14 years says he has never witnessed an incident like this ever before.
The award-winning photograph 'Hell is Here' clicked by photographer Biplab Hazra and published in Mumbai-based wildlife photography magazine Sanctuary Asia
The award-winning photograph 'Hell is Here' clicked by photographer Biplab Hazra and published in Mumbai-based wildlife photography magazine Sanctuary Asia

An award-winning photograph of a burning elephant calf trailing its mother while fleeing a mob in West Bengal might question your conscience as to where the human race is leading to in treating other animals, with whom we share the planet.

The photograph taken on state highway 9 in Jhargram district of West Bengal around a year and a half ago by wildlife photographer Biplab Hazra won the 2017 'Photograph of the year' award felicitated by Mumbai-based wildlife photography magazine Sanctuary Asia.

Speaking to The New Indian Express, Biplab Hazra, a brick kiln owner by profession said,"The elephant calf somehow survived. Though the calf may not have been intentionally set on fire by the villagers living in the vicinity of the elephant corridor that stretches from southwestern West Bengal up to Saranda forest in Jharkhand, but the practice of bursting crackers and throwing fireballs on elephant herds has been a common practice in this part of West Bengal," he said.

Narrating the events of the day he clicked the iconic photograph, Hazra said that he had never seen such an incident in 14 years of his wildlife photography career". All my concentration was only on clicking the photograph. But since that incident, I have not witnessed any another incident when an elephant caught fire," he added. On the other hand, award giver Sanctuary Asia believes that the award is an attempt to raise awareness about the treatment of pachyderms in the country.

Speaking to The New Indian Express, Sanctuary Asia editor Anirudh Nair said,"By awarding the photograph, we wanted to raise awareness on the practice of violence against elephants in West Bengal and in other parts of the country." In its Facebook page exhibiting the iconic photograph that has been titled 'Hell is Here', Sanctuary Asia caption describes the event in its caption, "The heat from the fire scorches their delicate skin as mother and child attempt to flee the mob.

Animal zone: Flaming tar balls and crackers were thrown at them, adding to the soundtrack of human laughter and shouts | Representative image

In the lead, the mother's expansive ears are angled forward as she stoically ignores the crowd of jeering men. Behind her, her calf screams in confusion and fear as the fire lick her feet. Flaming tar balls and crackers fly through the air to a soundtrack of human laughter and shouts." also adding "In 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.

India is the world's stronghold for the Asian elephant and boasts over 70 percent of the global population of the species. But this achievement rings hollow as vital elephant habitats and routes continue to be ravaged, and human-elephant conflict escalates to a fatal degree. The ignorance and bloodlust of mobs that attack herds for fun, is compounded by the plight of those that actually suffer damage to land, life and property by wandering elephants and the utter indifference of the central and state government to recognise the crisis that is at hand. For these smart, gentle, social animals who have roamed the sub-continent for centuries, hell is now and here.

Human-elephant conflict is rife along the elephant corridor in Bankura and Jhargram districts of the state. While villagers complain that 40-50 strong herds of elephants destroy their ripe crops and smash their homes, their retaliation has traditionally been violent. Crackers are bursted and fires raged to ward off the herds but due to this practice, the elephants get more enraged and cause even more damage to the public. In one such incident, an enraged elephant had tossed a human in the air and then smashed him under his foot in Bankura district in mid-2016.

Later that year, the West Bengal government had issued dedicated vehicles called 'Airavat' to forest teams to prevent the herds from wandering into human habitations. However, not much has changed since then. 

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