Pramada Shah, president of the Animal Welfare Network Nepal and wife of the king’s nephew, explains what happens during the Gadhimai Jatra festival on November 24-25, at which half a million animals and birds are expected to be sacrificed. – Anthony Dias
Animal sacrifice is an everyday occurrence in Nepal. One could visit one of the countless temples and suddenly find oneself witnessing the beheading of a goat, a chicken, a duck, or even a young buffalo. The visitor might catch the last sounds of a dying animal or find oneself wading through a stream of blood.
The ‘mother of all sacrifices’ is at Gadhimai Jatra in Bara district in the south of Nepal. This festival is held once every five years. Last time 20,000 buffaloes were killed as well as an unknown number of other animals, including rats, snakes, pigeons, chicken, ducks, goats and sheep. The total number of animals killed in the span of just two days was estimated to be 200,000. This year the organisers aim to sacrifice no less than half a million animals. Local communities are being pressurised to increase the numbers; each village committee is supposed to pledge one thousand animals.
Some 70 per cent of devotees come from India, which is just across the border from Gadhimai. One reason for the event’s huge popularity is its proximity to India, where some states have now banned sacrificial slaughter. In India today there is greater awareness about animal sacrifice and animal suffering so it is sad to see that Nepal caters to those devotees who will be able to conduct sacrifices that are illegal in their home states.
Sacrifice in itself is gruesome. Unsystematic mass sacrifice such as the one in Gadhimai is no less than barbaric. The worst killings are those of panchbali – five offerings – in which the throats of five kinds of animals (buffaloes, goats, pigs, roosters and rats) are slit with a knife. It is not done quickly. The animals die a slow, extremely cruel, violent death while the priests sprinkle the blood across the idol and its surroundings.
Right after the panchbali, it is the buffaloes’ turn. Wielding swords, men enter a fenced yard where around 20,000 buffaloes are kept, and start hacking at the buffaloes’ necks. As the killers cannot chop off the buffaloes’ heads at once, they first cut the hind legs. After the animal falls on the ground the men hack until the buffalo’s head is separated from the body. It takes up to twenty-five attempts to kill a big buffalo. The suffering is unimaginable.
Campaigners have protested against the widespread public sacrifice in Nepal for the last two decade, but I am a late entrant to this movement. Despite the fact that I have been involved in the women’s movement for long, I had to give it some thought before becoming equally vocal about another sensitive issue. But I have always been against sacrifice.
I remember creating a scene when I was about eight when I realised that a goat I used to play with was going to be killed. What upset me even more was that the fact that the goat would be beheaded in the name of God. In my Hindu upbringing I was taught that God was the Creator; even as a child I could not understand why God would want His creatures to be killed.
After seeing how upset I was my family stopped sacrificing animals. My relatives are animal lovers too so they might have been secretly relieved to be offering coconuts instead of animals. When I married a member of the royal family, my in-laws kindly agreed to abandon animal sacrifice and introduce the offerings of fruits and vegetables. They too are aware of the futility of animal sacrifice.
Since then I have talked to numerous people about this issue. I have come to realise that pledging animals to get one’s wishes fulfilled is a deep-rooted tradition. Children grow up witnessing numerous public sacrifices; people are made to believe that killing animals in a temple is a short cut to becoming successful. Even well-educated Nepalese, social campaigners and development agencies continue the tradition.
When I ask educated people why they don’t stop sacrifice, at least in their own family, they answer that bad luck could be the outcome and that a tragedy might occur. They feel it is better to continue the age-old traditions and be safe. With such widespread deep-rooted superstition it is easy to imagine how hard it is for campaigners to address this issue. The superstitious nature of the Nepalese people stands in the way of abolishing archaic practices such as animal sacrifice as well as witchcraft, racial discrimination, women’s suppression and others.
Nepal’s leaders might be concerned about the image of the country when the world’s largest sacrifice starts next week, but they will not want to interfere. They regard the issue as ‘too sensitive’ and claim they do not want to hurt the sentiments of religious groups.
Animal sacrifice benefits the business community involved in fairs such as Gadhimai. This year the organising committee expects to raise about 2 million euros from selling animal hides and carcasses as well as payment for logistics and recreational facilities. In contrast, the poor do not do well out of it. Some will have to spend up to two months’ salary to buy an animal to be sacrificed at the fair.
Another issue that is overlooked is that cruelty against animals harms society as a whole; it signals and normalises insensitivity in children who can become numb to the suffering of living beings. Now that the armed conflict has ended, Nepal needs peaceful practices that educate the next generation for a harmonious society.
The involvement of the international community is crucial to the campaign’s success. The support of the world at large will act as a catalyst by creating an atmosphere of shame among those who continue to sacrifice innocent creatures and motivate lawmakers to introduce a legal and administrative framework.
The movement is already gaining momentum and will continue to grow after images from the killings fields of Gadhimai are broadcast across the nation and the world. Animals cannot speak for themselves. Until now it has been the priests and business community to speak for them: bring more, kill more animals. It is high time for every concerned citizen to speak out and stop inhumane killings in the name of religion. – The Guardian, 23 November 2014
» Pramada Shah was interviewed by Anthony Dias, a Kolkata-based journalist.
India bans animal exports to Nepal during the sacrifice period – PTI
“The festival took place in Bariyapur near Nepal-India border, where the animals had their heads chopped off or throats slit to please the Goddess Gadhimai. India’s Supreme Court had recently ordered the government to stop the export of cattle to Nepal during the Gadhimai festival.” – PTI
India’s animal export restrictions has led to a sharp decline of 75% in the number of buffaloes getting slaughtered this year at Nepal’s Gadhimai festival, a mass animal sacrifice ritual held once in five years.
Over 2.5 million worshippers from India and Nepal visited the holy religious shrine for offering prayers within the past one month, according to local authorities. The devotees sacrificed buffaloes, goats, pigeons and rats to the Hindu goddess of power, Gadhimai, on Friday and Saturday, in a ritual held every five years. The event took place despite mounting pressure from animal rights groups.
Five years ago, the number of animals and birds sacrificed in the temple was estimated to be 200,000 but this time it has sharply declined due to campaign by various rights groups, said Uttam Kafle of Animal Nepal, an organisation advocating for the animal rights in the country. There has been a decline of 75% in the number of buffaloes getting slaughtered this year. “Some 5,000 buffaloes were sacrificed, which was a sharp fall as compared to 20,000 buffaloes sacrificed in 2009,” he said.
The festival took place in Bariyapur near Nepal-India border, where the animals had their heads chopped off or throats slit to please the Goddess Gadhimai. India’s Supreme Court had recently ordered the government to stop the export of cattle to Nepal during the Gadhimai festival. The Animal Nepal has staged a rally in Kathmandu against the animal sacrifices in Gadhimai and elsewhere in the country.
More than 200 rights activists took part in the rally carrying placards that reads “stop animal sacrifice in temples. ” We have organised rallies in Kathmandu and other parts of the country to sensitise the people and to show protest to animal sacrifices in the temples, said the organisers. – DNA, 1 December 2014