'Free Sunder' campaign sparked by young elephant's plight

'Free Sunder' campaign sparked by young elephant's plight

The plight of a 14-year-old elephant in custody of a prominent temple in Kolhapur district of western Maharashtra has sparked demands for its release with many Bollywood celebrities joining the cause while an NGO has moved the high court.

People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India had filed a petition in the Bombay High Court seeking release of the pachyderm, Sunder, which is likely to come up for hearing tomorrow.

So far, prominent Bollywood personalities including Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit, R Madhavan, Raveena Tandon among others have backed the cause for Sunder's release. Actor Arjun Rampal has now joined them by donating two billboards for the campaign.

While one of the billboards is installed in busy Dharampeth area here near the office of Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) Sarjan Bhagat, another will come up in Kolhapur, the hometown of MLA Vinay Kore, organisers said.

The tagline emblazoned on the billboard, which shows Sunder lying chained to ground, reads: "Maharashtra Forest Department, Have a Heart: Free Sunder".

MLA Kore had donated the elephant to famous Jyotiba temple in 2007, where he had been kept chained and inside dark sheds for most of the time.

In December 2013, PETA obtained a video footage purportedly showing Sunder's mahout (handler) beating him up with a pole near a poultry shed where he had been moved allegedly at the behest of Kore.

Though the high court had ordered Sunder's transfer to a sanctuary, the forest department has not released him yet, organisers claimed, adding state forest minister Patangrao Kadam had also ordered Sunder's release.

Rampal has also offered to donate a life-size statue of the pachyderm to Jyotiba temple in exchange for transferring him to a sanctuary chosen by PETA.

"The statue would allow devotees to pay tribute to Lord Ganesha and honour all elephants, including Sunder", he had said.

The actor recently met Kadam and handed over a letter expressing his solidarity with Sunder.

"I am deeply saddened to learn that, despite your and the High Court of Bombay's orders, the young elephant has not yet been moved to a sanctuary where he can live his life free from chains and beatings and that he continues to suffer."

Apart from the acting fraternity, around 80,000 people have signed PETA India's online petition for the cause, a release said. 

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