29/07/2015 2:50 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

How We Stopped The Massacre Of Animals At Gadhimai

Kuni Takahashi/AP Images for HSI


Photo credit: Kuni Takahashi/AP Images for HSI

"The ending is the beginning, and the beginning is the first step,..." -J. Krishnamurti

The bloody trail of the world's largest animal sacrifice in Nepal goes back almost 300 years when an imprisoned villager named Bhagwan Choudhary struck a bargain with the local deity Gadhimai, offering her a sacrifice of five animals for his freedom. This grew into a month-long carnage ("festival") that occurred at an interval of five years, resulting in the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of animals. But now, the temple bells that toll in praise of the deity will no longer sound the death knell for animals. Following concerted efforts by Animal Welfare Network Nepal (AWNN), People for Animals (PFA) and Humane Society International (HSI), the temple trust of Gadhimai has agreed that no more animals shall be sacrificed at the festival.

"Hapless cries filled the air as heads rolled and the blood flowed, turning the ground into a glutinous mire."

Struck by the cruelty inherent in this festival, Manoj Gautam, of AWNN visited the event in 2009 to document and spread awareness about the animal sacrifices. His efforts resulted in a public outcry and global support against this mass sacrifice of animals. Five years later, HSI collaborated with Gautam in a second effort to end this cruelty towards animals. HSI staff at the 2014 festival witnessed scenes of brutal violence towards animals. Streets were lined with hapless animals that were sold at inflated rates to a public intent on serving their own interests. Rats, pigeons, roosters, pigs, goats and buffaloes were all fair game. Most animals were smuggled through the Indo-Nepal border a week in advance. Surging crowds cheered the volunteer butchers who hacked at the necks of the animals. Hapless cries filled the air as heads rolled and the blood flowed, turning the ground into a glutinous mire.

A day after the animals were butchered, the meat and hides were sold, while the heads were dumped into large pits, many of which contained the remains from the sacrifices of previous years. The air was thick with the stench of rotting carcasses for days.


Photo credit: Kuni Takahashi/AP Images for HSI

Determined to prevent this cruelty, HSI campaigner and Trustee, People for Animals Gauri Maulekhi submitted a petition to the Supreme Court of India, which passed an interim order banning the transport of animals across the border for the festival. Meanwhile, AWNN and HSI worked with the Department of Livestock Services in Nepal to develop a plan to regulate the transport and evaluate the health of the animals brought to the site. HSI and AWNN also helped sensitise key members of the government including Nepal's Prime Minister, President and other officials and urged them to end their support for the festival. Members of HSI and AWNN conducted intense negotiations with members of the Gadhimai temple trust to convince them to end the sacrifice. Meanwhile, volunteers stayed at border crossings to block the transport of animals from India. While the sacrifice went on as planned, there were victories. The number of buffalo sacrifices came down from 10,000 in 2009 to 3,500 in 2014. Now, the temple trust and the government have agreed to end support for the animal sacrifice at Gadhimai.

"You too can be part of this support base by spreading awareness and pitching in your time and resources to prevent bloodshed in the name of tradition."

While this is very welcome news (and speaks to the success of the campaign to date), there are huge challenges ahead. The public must be persuaded to boycott these types of mass rituals that have been sanctioned by generations of superstition and may have become accepted as tradition. HSI and PFA will conduct awareness campaigns and rural outreach programmes in areas where animal sacrifice is a popular practice. Also, the Supreme Court has directed the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand to form district societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCAs) as well as state-level animal welfare boards as they share a porous border with Nepal and hence serve as hubs for the illegal transportation of animals across the border.

Just as the carnage at Gadhimai thrived on public support, the movement to end it can only be sustained through persistent efforts by dedicated, like-minded individuals who are willing to fight for animals. The good news is that you too can be part of this support base by spreading awareness and pitching in your time and resources to prevent bloodshed in the name of tradition.


Photo credit: Kuni Takahashi/AP Images for HSI

When shorn of the trappings of tradition and belief, animal sacrifice reveals itself as a brutal anachronistic act that should be anathema within any society that calls itself ethical or progressive.

Moral grounds apart, the call for a ban on animal sacrifice has environmental and economic repercussions too. At sacrificial grounds, the presence of faeces as well as rotting carcasses facilitates the proliferation of pathogens and aids the spread of zoonotic diseases. In 1995, Nepal suffered an outbreak of 'pestes des petits ruminants' (PPR) (or "goat plague") that was believed to have been transmitted through the congregation of animals at Gadhimai. Such sacrifices also result in the destruction of healthy livestock that would otherwise be useful in a primarily agrarian economy. Moreover, given that a majority of the population that participates in the sacrifice is poor, the exorbitant sums required to purchase the animals as well as sacrifice them, make this practice an unwarranted economic burden.

In addition, such animal sacrifices encourage violence towards animals which is witnessed by adults and children alike. As has been amply demonstrated by many scholars, children and adults exposed to violent behaviour (whether against humans or animals) show a propensity for violence towards humans as well. Discouraging violence is not just in the interests of animals, it is in the interests of humans and of ahimsa -- a core cultural value in the region.

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