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“Gods in Shackles: What Elephants Can Teach Us About Empathy, Resilience, and Freedom” by Sangita Iyer (vegan), Part 1 of 2

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Sangita Iyer (vegan) is a National Geographic Explorer, multiple award-winning nature and wildlife filmmaker and broadcast journalist, and a biologist. Ms. Iyer produced the 26-part short documentary series “Asian Elephants 101,” funded by the National Geographic Society’s storytelling grant. She’s also the director and producer of the globally acclaimed investigative documentary “Gods in Shackles,” revealing the exploitation of elephant-people for cultural festivities. In 2022, she released the book “Gods in Shackles: What Elephants Can Teach Us About Empathy, Resilience, and Freedom,” about her personal experiences with the caring elephant-people. Today, it is our privilege to invite Sangita Iyer to share her story with us.

Ms. Iyer recounts how she first learned about the hardships faced by India’s ceremonial elephant-people, and how this led to her award-winning documentary, “Gods in Shackles.” “Ironically, they were made to carry idols of gods. And I’m thinking to myself, in India, they worship Lord Ganesh, who is a Hindu god with an elephant face. And elephants are considered the embodiment of Lord Ganesh. Here, what a paradox! They worship on the one hand, and on the other hand, they defile, and they treat this incredibly intelligent sentient animal with such disrespect – beating them, abuse, torture, neglect, depriving them of their absolute basic necessities, not even protecting them from the sun – absolutely no compassion for such a beautiful animal. I knew I had to do something, I just didn’t know what I could do. But then again, the Universe showed me what to do. I launched a crowd-sourcing campaign. I raised about $140,000. I went ahead and I produced this film called ‘Gods in Shackles.’ ”

During the production of the “Gods in Shackles” film, Ms. Iyer realized that there was a significant lack of awareness regarding the plight of captive elephant-people. Thus, she used the documentary as an educational tool to empower the people of India, particularly students, who hold the key to the future. She then chronicled her journey into the production of the film in her book, “Gods in Shackles: What Elephants Can Teach Us About Empathy, Resilience, and Freedom.”

In 2017, Sangita Iyer received the Nari Shakthi Puraskaar award, the highest honor for women making a difference in India. She received the honor from the country’s president in recognition of her courage to expose the plight of captive elephant-people behind the veil of culture and religion.

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