When I first heard about the Gadhimai Festival in Nepal I could not believe that an event which was synonymous with grotesque animal killings could actually be referred to as a "festival". As I read more about the subject I realised that such practices have been going on in various parts of the world for years. I felt quite demoralised since it became apparent that some of these rituals were so deep rooted that it would need nothing short of a miracle to put an end to them. I was not sure what contribution I as an individual could make to bringing an end to an age-old practice.
The sheer brutality of what reportedly happened at Gadhimai, however, was something that I could not simply read and forget about. Buffaloes and goats were transported by foot from India and various parts of Nepal to the festival grounds. They were often made to walk for days without food or water. Many of them died along the way. Once they reached the festival venue, they were dragged into the slaughter field or even hung from sticks and carried because they were in no condition to walk. Once inside the field, they were randomly and brutally hacked with all sorts of weapons by inexperienced butchers. Little calves were murdered in front of their mothers and vice versa. Many of them did not die in one attempt and would lie writhing in pain for days. It all seemed so very futile to subject completely innocent beings to a plight like that. The images I saw were horrific and the terror in the eyes of the animals was unmistakable.
"The official end to ritualistic animal sacrifice at Gadhimai is the collective victory of countless individuals and organisations."
There have been many debates about the number of animals that are actually killed at Gadhimai every five years. But for me the exact number was irrelevant. Even if one animal was suffering torture of this magnitude it surely was worth trying to do something about it.
So I decided to support Humane Society International's campaign to prevent illegal transport of animals from India to Nepal for Gadhimai. I contributed financially but also activated politicians, religious leaders and journalists. Along the way I met many individuals who were working selflessly for the cause. These are not people you will hear about or read about in news articles but the role they played cannot be undermined. I truly believe that the official end to ritualistic animal sacrifice at Gadhimai is the collective victory of countless individuals and organisations. This includes politicians who tried to help instead of simply ignoring the appeals of many concerned people, journalists who covered the issue even though others did not find the news "exciting" enough as well as people who signed endless petitions and participated in Twitter storms to heighten awareness about animal cruelty at Gadhimai.
There is so much to be disheartened about in the animal activism space. Every day we see pictures of animal cruelty and it pains many of us so very deeply. In fact, in the lead up to Gadhimai last year, I spent many sleepless nights thinking about the torture that was awaiting the animals. Days like today are rare and definitely must be celebrated. More importantly they signal to us that nothing is impossible if all stakeholders come together and make a concerted effort.
"While the Gadhimai Temple Committee has officially announced the end of animal sacrifice, the local people will need to be educated and sensitised."
It is also important to point out, however, that a lot of work still remains to be done. While the Gadhimai Temple Committee has officially announced the end of animal sacrifice, the local people will need to be educated and sensitised. Such practices go on for years because people themselves often have blind faith in them. Thus, it will be crucial to ensure that their beliefs are changed and this is by no means an easy task.
Also, Nepal, like many other places, has an entire calendar of animal sacrifice. It is an integral part of the some of the other festivals as well, such as the Goat Drowning Festival, so it will need widespread and concerted efforts to improve the lives of animals. All of this will take time of course but we must ensure that we keep up the momentum against such meaningless and cruel killings of fellow living beings not just at Gadhimai but across the world. Today, I remember all the innocent lives that have been lost at Gadhimai till date and hope that in 2019 the same field that has witnessed the brutal massacre of thousands of animals can be converted into a place of celebration. A celebration of life.