Sabarimala donkeys to be porters no more

Beast of burden

Hopefully, from this season on, Sabarimala will be free of donkeys. The state government has directed the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the hill shrine, to stop the use of the animal for ferrying goods from the base camp of Pamba to the hill top temple.

TDB sources told Deccan Herald on Thursday that since Swami Ayyappen Road running parallel to the main trekking path became motorable, only tractors will be used for transporting goods from this season and service of donkeys for the purpose will be fully stopped.

For centuries, donkeys are carrying goods—from provisions to construction materials—along the five km steep trekking path during the annual pilgrim season spanning two months. The contractor, who wins the bid for transporting goods from Pamba to the temple, brings 2,000 to 2,500 donkeys from the neighbouring Tamil Nadu districts.

The donkeys, in herds of 25 to 30, carry materials to the hill top day and night till the season ends without adequate food, water and rest. 

Adding their woes, they are flogged by herdsmen for no reasons. Unable to withstand the toil and torture, a good number of them perish. Their carcass will become feast for beasts in the Priyar Tiger Reserve (PTR), where the shrine nestles.  

Moved by the sight, pilgrims, animal lovers and several organisations have appealed to the TDB and state government to stop the practice.  The High Court asked them to restrict the use of donkeys at Sabarimala to the minimum, if their service is indispensable.

But all fell on the deaf ears. A recent hard-hitting letter by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor to Devaswom Minister V S Sivakumar prompted the decision to do away with the donkeys.

“The atrocious conditions and torture meted out to these dumb creatures is beyond the toleration of human consciousness. Termination of use of the animals will not only end the existing torture of these beasts of burden but also result in more hygienic condition at this sacred pilgrim site,” he wrote to the minister.

Responding to the letter, the chief secretary had said: “The proposal to construct the ropeway is under the consideration of the Travancore Devaswom Board and it is precisely aimed at avoiding animals to carry goods. However, even before the proposed ropeway becomes operational, the Travancore Devaswom Board has been asked to avoid the use of donkeys.”

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