Mass animal sacrifice provokes protests in India

2014-11-28 16:07
Dead sheep laying on the ground. (File, AFP)

Dead sheep laying on the ground. (File, AFP)

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Kathmandu - Animal rights activist Pramada Shah felt like she was fighting a losing battle after an agitated crowd started accusing her of interfering with a festival honouring the Hindu goddess Gadhimai in southern Nepal.

"The entire environment there is so aggressive, I had to leave", Shah told dpa.

The Gadhimai festival in the town of Bariyarpur is held every five years, and Shah has attended the last three times in the hope that one of its central rituals, animal sacrifice will be abolished.

According to mythology, more than two hundred years ago, a prisoner dreamt of the Hindu Goddess Gadhimai, who promised his freedom in return for human sacrifice. But since human sacrifice was not deemed possible, animal sacrifice took its place. The Gadhimai temple priests are said to be the direct descendants of the prisoner.

The two-week festival draws Hindu devotees from across the border in India, as well as from Nepal's plains.

Thousands of Hindus had already gathered at a stadium near the Gadhimai temple to offer sacrifices on Friday, and would continue the ritual until Saturday.

"It's not like we ask people to bring sacrifices, they do it of their own will", said Ram Chandra Sah, chairman of the Gadhimai Festival Committee.

"They can bring anything as an offering, from sweetmeats to [live] animals", he told dpa. "But people believe that they need to make a sacrifice to thank the goddess Gadhimai, because she is the powerful one."

Water buffaloes are the main victims of the sacrifice, with some 50 000 killed in the last festival in 2009. Chicken, ducks, pigs, pigeons and white rats are also offered up in the hope of receiving graces.

Financial benefits

"I saw at least 15 000 buffaloes had been brought in by Thursday", said Shah. "And there are goats and starved pigeons crammed in cages. I tried to talk to a man who was leading a starved buffalo calf that had sat down because it was famished and he shouted at me and told me not to touch his animal."

Voices like Shah's against the mass sacrifice have been increasingly strident in the run-up to the festival.

Indian animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi and British actress Joanna Lumley have joined the call against the sacrifices.

The Indian High Court issued a ruling recently specifically aimed at banning the sale of live animals across the border for the festival, as 70% of Gadhimai sacrifices are brought in from India.

After international pressure, Nepal's government recently agreed to implement the Gadhimai Action Plan, aiming to ensure that only healthy animals would be allowed to be sacrificed.

"We were hoping at least that would go through. But the Finance Ministry is still 'holding deliberations'", Shah said angrily.

"I feel so frustrated about the fact that even though we tried for months, the slaughter has begun," the director of rights group Animal Nepal, Uttam Kafle, said.

Kafle described the truckloads of animals that were being brought in from India, despite the Indian government ban.

"If you ask people why they are doing it, they'll say that they're doing it for their family and sometimes they are being paid by a landowner to do it on their behalf. And they're mostly poor people so it's the only festival for them to look forward to in years", said Kafle.

For local businesses, the festival is a time to make money, as food and entertainment stalls pop up and parking tax is raised.

But the local financial benefits do not calm the festival's critics.

"Hinduism does not demand animal sacrifice. A practice like this taints the religion", Hindu religious leader Swami Agnivesh said on local television.

He had come to the venue from India to discourage people from conducting sacrifices.

"If you want to sacrifice the evil inside you, then give up the ill inside you instead of sacrificing innocent animals. If the goddess were so benevolent after the slaughter, then this region would not be so poor."

Sah strongly disagreed with this point of view.

"We haven't asked anyone to come here and make sacrifices. People come of their own will. It has got nothing with tainting the religion," he argued.

Nepal's government has said it cannot interfere with the festival, as that would breach people's right to freedom of religion. Some 14 000 security personnel have been deployed to manage the event.

"I have given up hope that this will ever end," Shah sobbed. "I felt like there was no point saying anything. There are miserable animals and people who are equally miserable and poor."

Read more on:    india  |  religion  |  conservation  |  animals

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