For the last few days, a disturbing image of a rose-ringed parakeet has been doing the rounds of social media. The bird is in a verdant tree, hanging from the deadly glass-coated manja that throttled it in what was likely a painful death.
It's a terrible thing when festival celebrations that should be auspicious and joyous sound a death knell for animals and birds. This Uttarayan, the National Green Tribunal placed an interim ban on glass-coated kite-flying strings. It's a welcome move, given that last year, animal welfare NGO Jivdaya Charitable Trust attended to 2394 injured birds in Ahmedabad during the kite-flying festival. Yet, news is already pouring in of birds being found injured and killed in different parts of western India.
It's a terrible thing when festival celebrations that should be auspicious and joyous sound a death knell for animals and birds.
How did it happen that animals became one of the collateral damages of our festivals? For years, animal welfare advocates have rescued snakes during Nagpanchami. The very snakes that we worship are trapped from their forest homes, starved and then force-fed milk which they can't digest, and often blinded because of the toxic tikka applied to their forehead. Dehydrated and hungry, they are paraded in the name of religion, eventually meeting a horrible death.
Many cruel practices are often viewed as tradition—whether it's bullfighting in Spain, jallikattu in Tamil Nadu, cockfighting in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, and farra do boi in Brazil. But tradition is no excuse to harm other beings. In cockfighting, for instance, roosters are forced to fight, until one of the birds is dead or critically injured. Crores of rupees are gambled over a fight that is by its very nature unfair and extremely cruel. The roosters' legs are usually tied to sharp objects such as blades, razors or knives. The sharper the blade, the quicker and deadlier the fight. Cockfighting is illegal—the Supreme Court has maintained the ban on the practice—yet it remains rampant in Andhra Pradesh, with support from local politicians and little action from the police.
However, a few people among the police do stand out. In Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh, the police are engaging with the locals, asking them to desist from cockfighting. Rampachodavaram's ASP Adnan Nayeem Asmi not only got villagers to pledge to boycott cockfights, but his team also distributed volleyball kits. The inspired move will hopefully encourage the youth in the village to play the sport and hold tournaments during Sankranti, instead of illegal cockfighting events. If celebrations and community gatherings define festivals, then we can all take a leaf from Rampachodavaram's book. Events such as these will bring the community together in celebrating a sport that does not contravene humanity and compassion. Sometimes, it does take a village.
Events like jallikattu, which is known for the cruelty and torment brought upon the bulls involved, are dangerous not only to animals but also to humans. Now banned, jallikattu events resulted in hundreds of human injuries each year, and many deaths. In just four years, from 2010 to 2014, the media reported approximately 1100 injuries to humans as a result of cruel and dangerous jallikattu-type events, and 17 people died, including a child. The figures may be higher, since this is what we have gleaned from media reports only.
Our festivals can celebrate animals the way they were meant to—with respect and veneration.
As we modernise our way of thinking, we can choose more compassionate ways of celebrating our festivals and culture, shedding those garbs of tradition that are harmful and destructive. It's not as if we as a community haven't come up with ingenious solutions. As animal advocacy groups cracked down on the illegal practice of snake "charming", more and more people turned to clay idols of snakes. In different parts of the country, Ganesh idols are being sculpted out of clay and other eco-friendly materials, while some take it a step further by immersing idols in tubs of water, rather than the sea.
Compassion comes naturally to us as a species. We've proudly held onto the ahimsa beacon, even in tumultuous times. Moving away from nonviolence and disrespecting the ahimsa philosophy with the blood of animals destroys the very fabric of our society. Inherent to our traditions, our gods and goddesses, our rituals, is a deep-rooted reverence for animals. And our festivals can celebrate animals the way they were meant to—with respect and veneration.