December 9, 2009
by Pramada Shah
One foggy day in November, we realized that we had lost the campaign against cruel blood sacrifices at the Gadhimai festival in the south of Nepal. We were heading towards the temple area, after conducting a last-minute SMS campaign. Hundreds of people were sending text messages to the chairperson of the organizing committee, requesting that he stop the public beheading of an estimated 16,000 buffalo.
The killing had not started at 10am, as had been planned, and a number of international reporters were present. We hoped the organizers would realize it was foolish to go ahead when the whole world was watching.
By 11:30, we had lost contact with our team at the temple area. Getting close to the venue, we suddenly saw them driving towards us. They stopped and from their faces we knew the outcome.
That morning, thousands of buffalo were publicly slaughtered in a particularly cruel manner. Abandoned without water or food in a government-subsidized enclosure, the buffalo awaited their fate with increasing anxiety. Some had already died from thirst and exhaustion. Their bodies were left with the living.
When a group of 250 men carrying swords entered the enclosure, the buffalo backed off. When the swordsmen started hacking at the necks of the smaller animals, some buffalo sniffed at the dead, while others tried to escape. Babies frantically searched for their mothers. Some started licking members of the audience, looking for comfort.
At one point, the men started to feel tired. They were no longer able to behead the animals in one stroke. The longer the killing took, the more uneasy the observers seemed to become. Reporters who might initially have considered the assignment exciting began to look upset. Animal advocates felt helpless and traumatized.
The scene was watched by hundreds of festival visitors, including children. Some of the men doing the killing said they felt satisfied slaughtering as many animals as possible in the name of culture and religion.
At Gadhimai, in only two days' time, an estimated 200,000 animals were killed. In the vicinity of the temple, anyone could kill any kind of animal (apart from cows) in any kind of manner.
Gadhimai today gives off a stench that no one can stand. The priests and organizing committee are satisfied. The 2009 festival was bigger than ever, with increased revenue, and no one was able to stop the killing.
Over the next five years, we must do all we can to ensure the Gadhimai killings are not repeated in 2014. Animal Welfare Network Nepal has developed a strategy that includes both grassroots and nationwide educational programs. The network will file a writ at the Supreme Court and continuously work with political parties and leaders to increase awareness. It is the task of the international community to continue to speak out and put pressure of the government. Humane Society International's alert prompted thousands of people to send a petition to the Nepal government; actions such as these are taken very seriously by Nepal, which has announced 2010 as "Visit Nepal Year."
Last month, 200,000 innocent creatures were needlessly and cruelly killed at Gadhimai. As I write this, blood sacrifices continue in numerous temples across the country. Together, let us ensure that this kind of slaughter will be abolished in Nepal and other countries sooner rather than later.
Pramada Shah is Volunteer Director, Animal Nepal and President, Animal Welfare Network Nepal.