The Gadhimai festival, which involves the ritual beheading of tens of thousands of buffaloes, goats and other animals in the Bara district of Nepal is currently taking place despite a 2015 ban. The gruesome festival happens every five years but with India-Nepal border crackdowns, Humane Society International (HSI) hopes that the number of animals killed in this year’s festival will be much less.
The Gadhimai Temple, which originally pledged an animal sacrifice ban in 2015, has fallen silent on the issue, HSI and other local animal and faith groups are appealing directly to the Prime Minister of Nepal to intervene to stop the bloodshed.
In the early hours of the morning in Gadhimai, Nepal, thousands of buffaloes were decapitated in the world’s single largest animal sacrifice event. As devastating as this was for Humane Society International/India’s team to witness, they reported that so far the death toll is thousands fewer than at previous events, thanks largely to the determined efforts of animal groups over the past year.
Teams from HSI, Federation of Animal Welfare Nepal (FAWN), andPeople for Animals have deployed on either side of the border to assist India’s armed police, the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), who are seizing animals brought across for sacrifice. Accompanying the law enforcement officers as they stop and check vehicles, HSI is assisting by removing animals that are found, and talking to devotees about the ban. HSI reports that hundreds of buffaloes and goats have been seized so far, and hundreds more turned away to make the journey back to India.
HSI/India’s team is being led by managing director Alokparna Sengupta, who has spent the last several days assisting the SSB at Raxaul, the closest border town to Gadhimai. Indian families starting their journey on foot, as well as Nepali devotees who purchased animals in India for sacrifice, have been stopped by the SSB and had their animals taken, mainly goats and pigeons.
“Virtually everyone being stopped by the SSB is aware that the Gadhimai Temple declared a ban on animal sacrifice, but they are bringing animals anyway. HSI/India’s team has been talking to devotees and helping with the animals, and it’s clear that the habit of providing a blood sacrifice for the goddess has persisted for so long that it is very hard to change people’s mind set,” said Sengupta in a statement. “So far, we‘ve seen fewer animals than we did this time at the last festival five years ago, and we hope at least to reduce the bloodshed, if not stop it altogether. The harrowing scenes from the last Gadhimai still haunts me, with decapitated buffalo as far as the eye could see. I dread going back there, but we must bear witness and do all we can for these helpless animals.”
At its height in 2009, around 500,000 buffalo, goats, pigeons and other animals were slaughtered at Gadhimai, but thanks to the tireless efforts by HSI/India and others, the death toll at the gruesome event was considerably reduced in 2014 to around 30,000 animals. Over the past year, leading up to the 2019 Gadhimai event, HSI/India and HSI/Nepal, together with FAWN, advanced a huge public awareness campaign to urge the estimated five million devotees attending the festival not to bring animals but to offer flowers and sweets instead. In India, HSI joined with Bihar’s Animal Husbandry Department,People for Animals, and local group Jag Jagran Sansthan, to perform street theater plays promoting the bloodless Gadhimai message, in addition to sponsoring radio advertisements and billboards in multiple languages and dialects.
In Kathmandu and Bara, multi-faith groups alongside HSI/Nepal, FAWN, and other animal welfare groups, have been working together to urge the government to ban religious animal sacrifice across all religious, cultural, caste, ethnic and linguistic sectors in Nepal. HSI is also asking members of the public to send an urgent plea to the Prime Minister of Nepal to intervene to stop the sacrifice. Some members of the Dalit community (the lowest social group in the Hindu caste system) who traditionally have the grim task of slaughtering animals, and removing and skinning the carcasses, are refusing to provide their services by way of protest.
Tanuja Basnet, Director of HSI/Nepal said, “Here in Nepal there is growing opposition to this blood festival, and we urge all stakeholders to respect the Supreme Court’s verdict. Animal welfare groups and religious groups, including some Dalit groups, are opposing the killing and promoting compassion to animals instead. If the Dalit do refuse to kill or remove the bodies, it will present the Temple with a health and safety headache because the carcasses will be left to rot.”
HSI/Nepal has been supporting a joint initiative by animal welfare groups and the Mahagadhimai municipality to stop the sacrifice of pigeons brought to Gadhimai. Permanent pigeon houses have been built to which devotees are being urged to bring their pigeons for release and lifetime care. The Mayor of Mahagadhami municipality and the Gadhimai Festival Operation Committee have made public declarations to reduce animal sacrifice at Gadhimai Festival.
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