On the anniversary of the Gadhimai Festival (Nov. 24 and 25), I feel both sadness and hope. Sadness, at the memory of the killing of over 200,000 animals; hope, because Gadhimai has created mom-entum in the anti-sacrifice movement that was launched 15 years earlier.
Gadhimai should never have happened. The inhumane and cruel killing of so many animals in the span of 24 hours marked one of the blackest days in my life as a Nepali Hindu. I remember the faces of some 20,000 buffaloes, including babies, awaiting an agonising death in order to ‘please’ a goddess.
During the festival each and every code of animal welfare was violated. The buffaloes were kept in an arena for days before the killings with no access to water or food. Some animals had already died or were lying unconscious when the merciless public beheadings started. When some 200 butchers were given the green light with the support of thousands of onlookers; the surviving animals looked confused and shocked. Although we tried everything to prevent the public killings, I feel a sense despair thinking of those innocent creatures trying to escape death by hiding behind others or run away through pools of blood. Everywhere people were busy killing animals, often with inadequate tools, causing unspeakable anguish for the animals. Gadhimai was literally a killing field.
All this we were supposed to accept as an exponent of Nepali culture or religion; however, the state-supported Gadhimai massacre was purely a business venture. A group of clever organisers turned the bali ritual into a cross-business venture. Thousands of people (a majority from nearby Indian states with few provisions for animal sacrifice) were made to believe that the goddess Gadhimai would only fulfil their wishes if they donated livestock. In the meantime, the organisers made a profit from commissions, rent, entrance fees, and the sale of bones and hides. None of the income has benefited the community.
I refuse to accept the claim that Gadhimai is part of our heritage because Hinduism does not promote cruelty and barbarism. Hinduism is a tolerant and inclusive religion and I cannot imagine that our gods want the blood of living beings. And I am not alone: there is a growing number of citizens who do not want to worship through a veil of blood. However, they are forced to support state-funded sacrifices and visit temples awash with animal blood.
Gadhimai has brought together people from different backgrounds in a growing nationwide movement against animal sacrifice. Already, campaigners have faced much criticism. One criticism is that we are indoctrinated by Christian zealots who want to undermine our culture. Others argue that we should first ensure human rights before getting into animal rights. There are also those who are convinced we are in it for the money.
A year after Gadhimai, I request critics to first understand the ground realities and constraints of social movements in Nepal, including ours. First, the movement against animal sacrifice is home-grown, led by Nepalis volunteering their time. They are capable, and intelligent and know what is right or wrong without instructions from others. Critics insinuating the anti-sacrifice movement is a foreign conspiracy should ask themselves if they still believe in the capabilities of their own people.
We have also been criticised for internationalising Gadhimai, and defaming Nepal. That too is not true. We have not actively sought out international media to expose and oppose Gadhimai. After Nepali media started reporting on the event, it was inevitable that the international media attention would catch on. It was the scale of the killings which were about to take place that caught people’s imagination.
We decided to talk to the international media after facing the indifference of the organisers and concerned authorities to halt or at least reduce the killings. We were concerned about protecting those poor animals and were ready to go to any length to stop to the carnage. It was not a matter of defaming one’s country; it was a matter of standing up for one’s convictions.
We have also been told that cruelty against animals in the West is worse than here. The plight of factory-farmed turkeys in the US is terrible, and we are thankful that animal cruelty in Nepal takes place in the open. But it should be understood that there are no boundaries where animal rights are concerned. People who love animals do
not discriminate between animals in Nepal or abroad. Due to our physical and monetary limitations we try to make a difference at home while showing solidarity with international groups. That comes with being part of a global world.
In the past, mass sacrifices were organised in a quiet manner with little media coverage, but animal sacrifice has now become an international issue. International campaigners oppose animal sacrifice not because they oppose religion but because they want to eradicate animal cruelty.
Our critics depict animal sacrifice as killing a well cared for animal with one swift stroke. Though there are examples of animals killed as humanely as possible, the reality of blood sacrifices in Nepal is quite different. According to limited research conducted by Animal Welfare Network Nepal, the majority of animals sacrificed suffer tremendously from dehydration, hunger, inappropriate transportation and unnecessarily cruel deaths. There are also rituals in which animals are made to fight each other, or in which people use them for entertainment, usually leading to torture or death.
On the anniversary of Gadhimai, my plea is ‘Never Again’. Let’s keep our temples free of blood. Let’s not condone superstitious beliefs and rituals that propagate violence and bloodshed. Let’s not subject our children to public beheadings and desensitise them to suffering and pain. Let’s not glorify the beheading of a chicken, goat or buffalo as a religious virtue.
(The author is Volunteer Director of Animal Nepal and President of the Animal Welfare Network Nepal)
Posted on: 2010-11-24 08:52