By Urvashi Prasad:
I recently learnt about this absolutely grotesque “festival”, Gadhimai, in which hundreds of thousands of animals are sacrificed in the most brutal fashion. It takes place once every five years in Bariyarpur, a town in Bara district of Nepal. Although there is some dispute about the actual numbers, it is believed that large numbers of animals, including cattle, goats, pigs, pigeons and even rats are typically sacrificed at this bloodthirsty “festival” over a two-day period.
The “festival” apparently began 260 years ago when a feudal landlord who was imprisoned had a dream that all his problems would be solved if he offered blood to goddess Gadhi Mai. However, many locals say that it was not always this bloody, and in fact, the sacrifice was primarily limited to coconuts for several years as opposed to live animals.
It is not just the fact that animals are slaughtered (as if that’s not bad enough). It is the manner in which these animals are treated which can put any human being to shame. Animals who are primarily brought from India (especially from the neighbouring states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal), are made to walk for days often without food and water.
They are beaten, tortured, and attacked multiple times to weaken any resistance. A group of 250 drunken men then carry out a frenzied attack in which they hit the animals with blunt objects and kitchen knives. For anyone not aware about the procedure for killing a buffalo, it takes several attempts to kill them with a kitchen knife. The pain, agony, fear, trauma and suffering that these animals go through is something that is probably incomprehensible for most of us. This year, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India estimates that there will be attempts to smuggle 4,00,000 cattle from India to meet this brutal fate.
Thankfully most people who I have interacted with during the course of my battle against this atrocity have condemned it outright, but as usual, there is a minority who have tried to defend it by citing some of the most preposterous reasons including:
1. This is part of religion — Not being an expert on religion myself, I decided to speak to those who are more learned about it, and not one of them said that this had anything to do with religion. I spoke to spiritual leaders, religious leaders, priests and even the Head of the Hindu Council in the UK and they all expressed utter dismay that people were trying to defend this brutality in the name of religion. It makes me wonder if people take refuge behind religion when they are otherwise unable to defend something completely indefensible. After all, don’t many people who kill other human beings cite religious reasons? Till when will we keep torturing and killing living beings in the name of religion?
2. This is part of culture — Sati (widow burning) was part of culture for many years too, but does that mean we let it continue? What will we say next? Dowry is a part of tradition so let’s not protest against it? Child marriage is also culture? Just because we feel too lazy or indifferent about changing something in the society that we don’t like, let us not say that it is because culture is unchangeable. Culture also evolves and it must do so in the right direction.
3. Why don’t you protest against other animal slaughters? — Well my answer for this one is quite simple. One life isn’t less precious than another. Just because animals are slaughtered inhumanly in one part of the world does not mean that it should continue in other parts too. After all, the beginning of the end of such senseless murder must start from somewhere. It doesn’t take an animal activist to protest against this. You simply need to be a human being.
One just needs to look at the pictures. The fear in the eyes of these helpless animals is something which I think should awaken the conscience of even the most hardened human beings.
4. Are you a non-vegetarian? — I personally am, but as an article in the Kathmandu Post pointed out, this has nothing to do with vegetarianism. This is not just about slaughter. It is the manner in which these animals are treated. If you see videos of the “festival”, you will quickly realize that it is more about drunken merriment and a bunch of deranged men posing with knives and weapons as though this is the proudest accomplishment of their lives. Surely then, this has got less to do with pleasing a goddess but more a case of overpowering a living being who is already weaker than you and completely defenceless.
I asked the festival organizers why they don’t try to massacre tigers and lions. Well the answer is quite simple. They will be ripped to shreds themselves. So what do they do? Bring the most docile creatures and attack them mercilessly. Locals from the area also told me that violence towards animals is merely reflective of the general attitude of people in that area.
5. It helps us make money — Disturbing as this answer was, it was the most truthful and the least hypocritical. As I proceeded with my investigations, I realized that this so called “festival” had very little to do with religion or pleasing any goddess. These are blind superstitions that have been instilled to mislead the people who attend this event that unless they kill animals their lives will not become better. Unfortunately, life only becomes better for a handful — the “festival” organizers and others with vested interests. They make plenty of money by illegally selling the skin, meat and bones of these poor animals.
Usually the locals, primarily those from the Dalit community, are expected to take the meat away, however, this year for the first time they have refused to do it. It is amply clear that goddess, religion, culture and customs are all hypocritical excuses for something which is purely an economic activity. In fact the Government of Nepal has had a history of funding and subsidizing this “festival”.
Given the completely unjustifiable nature of this “festival”, the Indian Supreme Court has imposed a ban on transport of any cattle from India for this. The Government too is proposing strong measures including imposition of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code in the districts neighbouring Nepal to curb any illegal smuggling of cattle for this atrocious event which is to be held on November 28-29 this year. These orders, however, have to be very strictly implemented and I am hoping that the Indian Government will ensure this.
For those of us who are fighting against such atrocities, it is a long war ahead but we will not give up because if we do not give a voice to these voiceless creatures, who will? If hundreds of thousands of defenceless human beings were killed in this fashion over a two-day period, would it not be in the headlines in every part of the world? Then why is it that events like Gadhimai only attract a small article in a newspaper? Because animals don’t matter as much? Who are we to decide that one life is cheaper than another? When we can report literally every moment about a celebrity’s public life, why is this not newsworthy?
My plea to all of you is to raise your voice against such inhuman practices. No matter which religion, country or culture you belong to, you are ultimately a human being and there is nothing greater than that. To those who try to defend or deflect attention from such heinous mass murders, please ask them to save a life instead of taking one. I work every day to save a life, be it human or animal. I don’t always succeed unfortunately, but when I do there is nothing that gives me more happiness. Not even making more money which is the underlying motivation for such mass murders. Save lives, spread peace!
For those of you who would like to contribute to the efforts against Gadhimai, 2014 please support this campaign by Humane Society India and People for Animals, two of India’s largest animal welfare organizations that have not only led the Supreme Court case but are also planning to help patrol the India-Nepal border to check illegal smuggling of animals in November. Do your bit to save a life!
You can also volunteer to be part of the border patrolling efforts to prevent animal smuggling from India. You can see details on Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organization’s Facebook page here.