The headline in The Tribune reads, "Cases of man-elephant conflict on the rise." Those words reflect what appears to be an unbiased measurement of conflict, but that is far from the case.
As we read further, the words in the story anthropomorphize elephants in a worrisome way. The article writes about how close elephants approached a heavily populated area: "Elephants reached the busy Ring road close to the state assembly, a scenario never seen before. Fortunately, there was no human causality and the elephants only resorted to mild vandalism."
You can almost read this as a reflection of some attack on the community. During various conflicts, journalists might have written that the guerrillas approached the city closer than ever before. And when newspapers wrote about gangs, they might have noted that there was only "mild vandalism" and no casualties when one gang crossed into the other's turf.
But these are elephants. Do elephants vandalize? Do elephants plan incursions into cities? The article notes the proximity of prominent government offices to the location where the elephants were seen. Do elephants have designs on disrupting government? No, but the writing creates that notion.
The elephants are a "menace." The elephants "attacked slum dwellers" -- and they did it when people were most vulnerable because they had gone to the forest to relieve themselves. Rather that use this incident to note that 40 percent of India lives without toilets, and must walk into the forest at night to pee or defecate, the author ascribes a motive to elephants, as though they hid, waiting for the chance to harm villagers.
Only at the end of the article does the writer note that humans have encroached on elephant habitat.
The language suggests that the elephant is no longer loved like a god, but rather is feared like an enemy or an intruder. This is the kind of language we use to describe people when we are trying to justify retaliation against them. And that is our great fear for elephants in India.
Dr. Thomas Grant
Professor of Journalism at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College