Sankarashan Jena has no hatred for his wife’s killer — an elephant in Odisha’s forest-fringed Joranda. In fact, he campaigns for the protection of these elephants caught in conflict with humans. Sankarashan, a 62-year-old retired college teacher, thinks of the violent death of his wife. But he doesn’t feel despair. “Life and death are in God’s hands, and we are merely his instruments. I cannot hold the entire elephant species responsible,” he told The Hindu. “Do people stop walking on the road because they lost a dear one in a road accident?” he asks. “If I start hating elephants, I would be the biggest fool on earth,” he added.
Early, on January 1, 2013, a wild elephant that had strayed from the nearby forest attacked his wife. Sankarashan watched horrified. The couple were taking their morning walk in Joranda, in Dhenkanal district. She succumbed to her injuries. Though Sankarshan was devastated, in a few weeks, he started working for elephant conservation again.
Apart from teaching, Sankarashan runs an awareness programme for elephant protection. His students enrolled in the National Service Scheme at Joranda College are his messengers. “The elephant is a beautiful animal, and is an inseparable part of our religious, traditional and historical life. Odisha has a sizeable population of these animals. However, in the past decade, they have come into increasing conflict with humans and face a threat. People are more violent than elephants. Habitat loss and a dwindling food base have made the animals vulnerable,” he said.
With increased awareness in government and the general public, harmonious conditions are possible for them, he said. “I am the biggest motivation. When a person like me, who has lost his wife in an attack, works for protection, should they not do their bit?” After retirement, Sankarashan has been more vigorous, going from village to village with the message of conservation. In the past five years, more than 15 people have been killed in Joranda. In Odisha, 60 to 70 elephants and an equal number of humans die every year in the conflict.