By Uzma Shamim:
When centuries old traditions and call for humanity come into contestation with one another, the outcome becomes an issue of considerable hullabaloo. This dilemma came to the fore in the case of the Gadhi Mai festival in Nepal. The origins of the Gadhi Mai festival are steeped in Hindu mythology. The mythology around the festival weaves the tale of one feudal lord, who was visited by the goddess of power around, 265 years ago, in his dream, while he was lying in jail. The Goddess, Gadhimai, asked him to offer human sacrifice to bring an end to all his worldly troubles. However, the feudal lord convinced Gadhimai to accept animal blood instead of human and the ritual was followed, until 2014.
After every half a decade, a small district, 160 km south of Kathmandu, becomes the host to 4 million people who come to witness the world’s biggest animal sacrifice. Since the festival is held on such a huge scale and is based on people’s belief, the government’s hesitation in responding to demands of a ban on the Festival by Animal Rights activists and welfare organisations was quite apparent.
The festival is inaugurated by slaughtering white mice, pigeons, roosters, ducks, swine and male water buffaloes by the head priest during the ritual Saptabali. The behemoth number of sacrifices led to a shortage of goats for consumption and even sacrifice, in Nepal in 2009. This led the Indian Supreme Court to prohibit animals from being illegally siphoned off across the border. The Ministry of Home Affairs directed the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to make sure that no animals for the festival are transported to Nepal.
After the hue and cry over the brutality towards animals, Nepal’s Gadhimai Temple Trust announced, on 28th July, 2015, that no slaughter would take place at this year’s festival. The Temple authorities have decided that the Gadhimai festival would be blood free from now. According to Gauri Maulekhi, consultant for Humane Society of International, in India, the ban on the slaughter is “a tremendous victory for compassion”, though she acknowledges that the real task would be to convince the masses about the ban.
Chairman of the temple trust, Ram Chandra Shah, said in a statement announcing the ban- “Moreover, we can ensure Gadhimai 2019 is a momentous celebration of life.” However the real task of implementing the ban still lies ahead and it won’t be an easy one since the Gadhimai Festival involved the beliefs and faith of the common people. The real achievement would be when they support the ban and acknowledge that what was going on for the last 265 years was an act of monstrosity in the garb of ritual. We need to accept and perpetuate the fact that life, and not just human life, should be valued and protected. After all, no god would be pleased by such a senseless mass killing of its creatures.