Animals in Processions

Misuse of work animals is fairly common and as vegetarians we should at least, if within our power, stop animals being utilised in processions.


Also, several incidents have proved that using animals in processions has seriously back-fired on humans. One of these being in February 2016 when during the Bhagavathi temple loud music-filled festival procession in Pallakad (Kerala), a caparisoned elephant ran amok, angrily destroying vehicle after vehicle. It took the 2 mahouts sitting on top of the elephants several hours to bring it under control.

No wonder animals were prohibited (on paper only as it turned out) during the Kumbh shahi processions at the Nashik mela in August 2015. The reason given by the officials was that in view of the number of pilgrims that turned up in the city on the Shahi Snan days it was practically impossible to also accommodate the animals into the narrow shahi marg which would be jam packed with people. However, some elephants, horses and camels were used by the mahants and sadhus saying that it was their age-old tradition and cited that processions taken out in Orissa for the Jagannath Yatra and the Allahabad Kumbh had 20 elephants.

In 2022 animal rights activists opposed the use of elephants that would be taking part in the Dassera celebrations in Mysuru. The elephant has to carry a Golden Howdah and walk on the tarmac for 2 hours covering 9.4 kms from Amba Vilas Palace to Bannimantap during the Jamboo Savari. The Howdah itself weighs 750 kgs while the weight of Gaddige, Mahout and the ornamental caparison adds another 250-300 kgs. They suggested that a much lighter replica of the Golden Howdah be taken in a chariot drawn by an elephant.


Animals such as horses, ponies, camels and elephants traditionally feature in religious functions. Processions involving such animals require Police permission. Crackers are burst and blaring music is played all along the route which quite often scares the animals and they go berserk thus injuring people. For example, in Pune during a temple procession organised on the occasion of Rath Saptami 2009 by the Shree Balaji Mandir Trust, a 5-year old girl died after being kicked by a horse on her head following crackers being burst. The Pune Police therefore temporarily banned animals (horses, camels, elephants) in processions. Then in response to frequent requests made to the Pune Police by the Sarva Jeev Mangal Pratishthan and Beauty Without Cruelty, they began issuing orders banning the use of animals (camels, elephants, horses, ponies and cattle) in processions and rallies. The first such order was passed for Shivaji Maharaj Jayanti celebrated on 19 March 2014. However, some months later in November 2014 an old gentleman while walking on the road was knocked down by a horse that gave joy-rides. He suffered grave head injuries requiring six-hour surgery, was in a coma, and eventually died after a fortnight.

Some times bulls are also used in religious processions. For example, to celebrate the Diksha of 11 Jains, bullocks were found dragging overloaded (with 15-20 persons) carts. The procession was stopped by the SPCA and 4 bullock cart owners’ persons were booked by the Gamdevi police in Mumbai. The other participating bulls were also found to be in a poor condition.


In April 2013 animal activists objected to the Vadundhra Jain Temple Ghaziabad (Delhi) using horses, bulls and elephants for Mahavir Jayanti celebrations. The highest bidder was to ride on the elephant during the procession. Their previous year’s procession saw one of the two elephants being killed after being hit by a truck on the NOIDA expressway, whilst the other was severely injured and had to be shifted to a sanctuary at Agra. Despite this, in 2015 elephants, camels and horses were scheduled to give joy-rides during an inauguration organised by a builder where the chief guest was a Jain muni and the community were invited. Luckily due to the efforts of animal activists, political pressure was used to stop the use of animals on the day itself and the animals were sent back in the afternoon.


In contrast, in January 2013 for the first time the Ulema (religious heads/scholars) opposed the use of bullock carts in the Eid-E-Milad procession at Mumbai citing cruelty to bulls..

The season for temple festivals (vela/pooram) covers March, April and May (summer – the hottest months of the year) and processions with at least 3 and up to 15 temple elephants participating is a vital part of these celebrations. A growing trend is for churches and mosques to also organise elephant processions. A huge strain for temple elephants – they lose nearly 300 kgs in a single festive season.

In 2014 when a woman tourist was trampled to death by an elephant at Idukki, it came to light that elephant safaris were being conducted at Munnar, Mattuppettik, Kumili and Thekkady. They were made to give joy-rides for up to an hour as part of a package which included bathing, showering and 5-minute photo sessions with elephants. Elephant rides were also being offered at plantations. Let’s hope the Animal Welfare Board of India will successfully prevail upon the Kerala Forest Department to stop the illegal practice.

No one, especially in Kerala, adheres to the rule that an elephant can not be made to feature in a ceremony for more than three hours at a stretch. They are not only made to walk long distances on hot, concrete roads, again in violation of rules, but they aren’t even given sufficient water to drink – an elephant needs about 230 litres of water every day.

In November 2009, based on the Elephant Task Force report and recommendations, the Government of India directed that all captive elephants should be transferred immediately to Forest Departments. This among other things meant that no captive elephants would be allowed at temples or in processions. As expected, implementation has been difficult and has not happened.


On the riverbank of the Yamuna is an “elephant colony” comprising of 14 animals which are rented by people of the capital, particularly politicians, for Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 a day. However, some owners of the pachyderms have refused to supply animals for political rallies because they have been made to work non-stop, given no rest or fodder, and people have started sitting upon them despite agreeing not to do so and only use them for display at particular spots.

Children conferred with bravery awards were not made to ride bejewelled elephants at the 2009 Republic Day parade in Delhi because during the previous year berserk behaviour was claimed to have been observed.


Surprisingly, the 2008 Olympic Bronze medallist wrestler, Sushil Kumar was also made by the Ministry of Sports to ride an elephant and parade through Delhi as part of his facilitations.

Unfortunately, camels from Rajasthan were taken to different states like Jharkhand and used extensively as “campaign vehicles” for the 2009 elections. They were draped in banners and made to move around the city for Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 per day. Some others used horses for campaigning and it was sad to know that no concern was shown for the animals’ injuries.


In 2012 the Election Commission of India, based on complaints of cruelty received from animal activists, stopped animals participating in election campaigns. Cruelty to horses, ponies, donkeys, elephants, camels, bulls, etc. were cited which included having to work for long hours, carrying heavy campaign materials, and painting (harmful chemicals in paints) slogans and symbols on the bodies of the animals. The Commission rightly went a step further by asking politicians not to refer to their rivals as animals.

In 2012 animal rights activists objected to two politicians riding an elephant (the national heritage animal) in Amritsar as part of a political agitation against inflation. They were booked for violating the Wild Life Protection, and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Acts. Later in the year a complaint was lodged by the same animal activists about a male elephant made to give rides at Haryana Tourism’s Dabshick tourist resort at Hodel. The resort also provides camel joy-rides.

Attracting Tourists

Elephants are made to carry tourists for sightseeing, for example rides to Amber Palace in Jaipur and a large procession during the Teej festival there includes caparisoned elephants and camels. Although for the first time no elephants participated at the Ganguar festival in 2013, the Animal Welfare Board of India, for reasons best known to them, gave permission for 30 elephants to participate in the Teej event later in the year.


In 2009, aiming to phase-out working elephants (only females because males get violent when they are on heat or musth) made to take tourists up to Amber Fort, the Rajasthan state government began looking after them. Soon after, they built an elephant village called Haathi Gaon to house them and their mahouts, and attract tourists too which resulted in a lot of criticism of how the elephants continued to be handled with the cruel ankush and made to work long hours. The walk up the hill is steep and takes an elephant 10 minutes, half the time it would take a human to reach the top, whereas a jeep ride would be just 5 minutes. However, it is alarming that although old and sick elephants have died, by 2013 the group had increased by about 24% – this indicates young ones being quietly are added and there is no commitment to phase-out these elephants.

In 2017 the Animal Welfare Board of India found 19 elephants blind in one or both eyes and unfit to work, and 10 of the 91 screened by them had tuberculosis. In fact, a large number of these elephants are infected with tuberculosis, a zoonotic illness which can be transmitted between animals and to humans.

Despite the Supreme Court case going on for years, Haathi Gaon elephants have continued to die. The situation was worse during the lockdown when 4 elephants died between March and September 2020. Soon after, in December 2020 a news article revealed that 13 elephants from Haathi Goan Rajasthan had been transferred to Gujarat to be used for joy-rides, tourism and other associated activities. BWC together with WRRC (Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Centre of Bengaluru) immediately approached the Gujarat Chief Minister and informed him of the condition of the elephants and suggested that he order the Gujarat State Forest Department to take custody of the elephants and protect them in a near natural sanctuary near to a river for their rehabilitation and not permit them to be used for joy-rides, functions, public display or exhibition.

It is possible that due to the December 2020 recommendation by the Ministry’s panel formed on a Supreme Court order that stated “in a phased manner, the elephant rides in Amber Fort may be withdrawn and switched over to other modes of transportation like electric or battery-operated vehicles” the 13 elephants from Haathi Goan Rajasthan as stated above were transferred to Gujarat.

The Oberoi Udaivilas, 5-star hotel of Udaipur is known to organise a traditional “royal welcome” for guests who are made to sit atop an elephant which is led by a procession of camels, horses and traditionally attired dancers who shower them with fragrant rose petals.

About 460 horse-borne tourists and their keepers walk or run upto 25 kms uphill daily in Matheran, a hill station in Maharashtra where vehicles are not allowed. They work from 6 am to 10 am and from 11 am to 7 pm. In short, the horses are exploited from sunrise to sunset. In September 2022 a 5-year old horse died after slipping over newly installed laterite clay paver blocks.

However, during the Pandemic the horses of Matheran as also horses operating at other hill stations such as 297 horses at Mahableshwar-Panchgani that were giving horse-cart joy-rides had stopped functioning due to lack of tourists.

Camel safaris across Rajasthan are also organised to attract tourists.

If tourists were wise about their own safety and had compassion for animals, they would not ride camels, elephants, ponies, etc. In January 2015 a man in Ahmedabad was killed by a camel that bit him on his head; his caretaker who tried to stop the attack was also bitten on his leg, but survived. This goes to prove that not only do elephants get angry, but so do other animals and hit out at humans.

Yak safaris are considered attractive events in Sikkim. Some popular trails such as those in areas around Dzongri and Tsomgo Lake sitting on the back of a yak are promoted for tourists. It is sad, however, that most of these beasts of burden are not looked after as well as they should be and complaints and objections are often received.

Mascots and Alms

Misuse of work animals is fairly common and as vegetarians we should at least, if within our power, stop animals and birds being utilised as gimmicks for political rallies, protests and functions, as live mascots like Appu the baby elephant that was used for the Asian Games in New Delhi in 1982, and for advertising company merchandise like camels and elephants made to parade through congested city streets and in rural villages carrying banners advertising items ranging from saris to soaps.


Elephants are used illegally for begging and giving rides too. It is a business for the owners/mahouts. Many years ago, a leading Bank (for reasons best known to its manager) gave a business loan to a man to buy an elephant. Not long after, when the man was unable to earn enough to feed the elephant or himself leave along pay the interest to the Bank, he abandoned the animal by tying it at the entrance of the Bank. Countless captive elephants have suffered neglect in the form of insufficient food and medical aid. This has in turn resulted in elephants going into an uncontrollable mad rage. For example, in November 2011, at Burdwan (West Bengal), an elephant picked up, flung and trampled to death a 7-year old boy after having taken him for a joy-ride.


In 2013 elephants were banned from plying the streets of Greater Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane, so these majestic animals which were in a pathetic condition – underfed and dehydrated with sore feet due to the hot concrete roads they walked on – are no longer seen begging for alms, and rarely used in processions or giving rides in the midst of heavy traffic. BWC feels that if you must give some thing for such elephants, then feed them, do not give money to the mahout because it encourages them to exploit elephants by making them beg. Meanwhile in 2012 local animal activists began trying to get the state government to provide a rescue centre but it hasn’t materialised.

Horses without Carriages

While animal activists have been vigorously campaigning to bring a complete end to horse drawn victorias in Mumbai, in July 2012, following a proposal by Janwani, the social initiative wing of the Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture, to include a tonga ride with the Heritage Walk in Pune. BWC wrote to the PMC commissioner to drop the tonga ride in view of the exploitation involved, following which the standing committee approved the heritage walk proposal, but without a tonga ride.


To commemorate Horses Without Carriages International Day (first Saturday of December 2012) BWC sent out a Hinsa vs. Ahinsa number highlighting the fact that despite horses suffering no end, horse-drawn carriages continued to be used as tourist attractions in Mumbai. It was also pointed out that human safety was at stake since the victorias were not designed or made by coachbuilders and wheelwrights and were lacking in balance and brakes.

In Mumbai race horses run with aluminium shoes which are lighter compared to steel, but need to be changed by a farrier before each race. How often horseshoes are changed for Mumbai’s horses drawing carriages is not known. However, given the conditions in which the horses live, BWC felt it was high time that Mumbai’s victorias were abolished but it didn’t happen till years later.

In response to a PIL filed by Animals and Birds Charitable Trust of Mumbai, in June 2015 the High Court directed all authorities to ensure that the use of victorias and horse-drawn carriages in Mumbai be completely stopped after a year. The bench felt that using horse-driven carriages in Mumbai for joy-rides was an avoidable activity and completely illegal that violated Sections 3 and 11 of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. “In other cities, such carriages may be used for other purposes too. But if it is noticed that carriages are used for joy-rides, then that should be stopped by the concerned authority,” was also said by the division bench of Justices of the High Court.

Then in April 2016 the Supreme Court dismissed a special leave petition challenging the Bombay HC order and directed the owners and drivers of the victorias to approach the HC again to review the government’s rehabilitation plan for them since becoming hawkers was unacceptable.

In February 2021 when it was announced that battery-operated victorias without horses would make a come back in Mumbai, BWC’s campaign as well as the efforts of other NGOs against the use of horse-driven carriages for joy-rides resulted in a win-win situation for men and horses because the old owners & riders had eventually been satisfactorily rehabilitated and there was no chance of them asking for horses to draw the carriages again.

In Kolkata horse-drawn carriages that were in demand during the last century were found waiting in front of Victoria Memorial for customers on Ram Navami in March 2018. The open carriages are called phaetons and enclosed ones used for weddings are landaus. They are usually in silver and gold and have glass fittings in different colours. The 30-odd carriages that are remaining congregate near Victoria memorial from Rajabazar, Mertiabruz, Park Circus and Kidderpore offering visitors a joyride for a trip around the Maidan – only in the evenings because due to the heat some horses collapsed and died. The horses are bought from Sonepur fair in Bihar and new phaetons from Gujarat and Bihar. However, in August 2020 it was reported that after Cyclone Amphan battered the city and tourists disappeared due to the pandemic the tangas (horse carriages) of Kolkata were driving into the sunset.

Sound and Fury

The loud noise of bursting fire-crackers at Diwali and other festivals, on auspicious occasions like weddings, during religious processions, political campaigns, and even when India wins a cricket match, causes fear and panic in domestic animals and birds, particularly dogs.


Crackers are harmful – to all living beings and for the environment. They are a meaningless cause of noise, air, water and land pollution. Are fire hazards and injurious to those who manufacture, sell and use them.


At a wedding in Meerut an elephant (of the 15 brought to welcome the baraatis) ran berserk when crackers were bust and gunshots fired as part of the celebrations. The elephant was chased for 15 hours by over 200 persons during which time he smashed vehicles, blocked roads and finally went into a sugarcane field where he was tranquilised and captured.

In another wedding, at Bengaluru in May 2013, when a groom opted to depart in a procession accompanied by a music band, from his house to the marriage venue sitting on top of a decked-up elephant, the Forest department nabbed the elephant en route. As per rules, elephants can not be used for commercial purposes without prior permission of the department. Surprisingly, a month earlier permission had been granted by the office of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests for an 18-year old elephant from Andhra Pradesh to be used in a magic show at Bengaluru.

Pure white mares usually used for weddings are known to be blind. They are housed in pathetic conditions and more often than not need to walk several kilometres to the residence of the groom. There the horse is covered in finery and a heavy throne-saddle is placed on its back on which the bridegroom and another sit. The loud band and boisterous people around are absolutely stressful for the animal that therefore needs to be tightly held by the bit and steered along the route slowly to the bride’s place. In fact, an iron chain could be fitted into the horse’s mouth making its gums bleed and fire crackers and fire lanterns used which make it scared.

At Ghaziabad in January 2015, a horse carrying the bridegroom to his marriage ceremony was electrocuted by a power cable hanging loose from a pole and died almost immediately. The owner of the horse was walking in front, leading it. The groom immediately jumped off thus saving himself too.

In April 2015 a mare called Payal had been booked to carry a groom in a wedding procession at Mumbai, but while being taken there she got frightened by a garbage truck horn. She threw off her jockey-caretaker who fractured his leg and looked on helplessly while she bolted… she entered the toll naka and ran alongside the cars almost the entire length of the Bandra Worli Sea Link… eliciting smiles, chaos and a slowdown of cars. Eventually, some Israeli tourists who knew how to handle horses got off their taxi and reined her in. It then came to light that in a few months ago the owner had bought the 4-year old ghodi costing Rs 1 lakh, but on a down payment of Rs 25,000/- from a rural fair in Solapur. He said that she could dance, had also acted in the TV serial Maharana Pratap and appeared in newspaper advertisements.

Camels and ponies are put under great stress: made to give joy-rides to many adults and children, and are frequently taken in processions where loud crackers are burst and there is a lot of commotion. When exhausted, they collapse and cry out in pain, but are forcefully pulled forward with ropes strung through the metal rings in their nostrils.


On Independence Day 2012 at Athagarph in Cuttack district of Odisha, a 15 year old boy was gorged to death (and 3 others injured) by a buffalo that charged into a procession beating drums and cymbals – loud sounds no different to busting crackers.


Such tragic incidents clearly indicate that crackers should never be burst or loud noises generated in the vicinity of animals as it adversely affects both humans and animals. Better still no animals should be made to participate in processions. Grandeur need not include animal drawn chariots or animals decked in finery and made to walk long distances with merrymakers.

In May 2019, a 4-year old handsome, white horse was deliberately pelted with a stone during a wedding procession at Khambhisar, Modasa taluka, North Gujarat. Certain youths turned violent because they did not approve of the horse carrying a groom of a particular community. The animal died of a severe head injury a day or so later.

Page last updated on 09/09/23