Raxaul, India – Animal protection group Humane Society International/India says it hopes an India-Nepal border crackdown will reduce the number of animals killed in this year’s Gadhimai festival, which involves the ritual beheading of tens of thousands of buffaloes, goats and other animals. The mass sacrifice in the Bara district of Nepal, which takes place every five years, is set to occur on December 3rd.
The Gadhimai Temple, which originally pledged an animal sacrifice ban in 2015, has fallen silent on the issue and so HSI and other local animal and faith groups are appealing directly to the Prime Minister of Nepal to intervene to stop the bloodshed.
Hopes of a bloodless Gadhimai appear to be waning as HSI/Nepal confirms that more than 2,000 buffaloes have already been taken across the border, mostly under cover of darkness, to the sacrifice arena. Many buffalo calves are reported to have died in the arena from suspected diarrhoea and exposure to the cold, and others have fallen sick.
Teams from Humane Society International, Federation of Animal Welfare Nepal, and People for Animals have deployed on either side of the border to assist India’s armed police, the Sashastra Seema Bal, who are seizing animals illegally 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.
Humane Society International/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 removed, mainly goats and pigeons.
Sengupta said, “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. Our HSI/India 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. So far at least, 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 to stop it altogether. The harrowing scenes from the last Gadhimai still haunt 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.”
For the first time, the Supreme Court of Nepal has directed government bodies to reduce animal sacrifice at the festival, and several of Nepal’s Government ministries have issued statements in recent months discouraging animal sacrifice at Gadhimai and elsewhere. Nepal’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation, Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Ministry of Communication & Information Technology all published notices in local newspapers to reduce, discourage and ultimately end animal sacrifice.
At its height in 2009, around 500,000 buffalo, goats, pigeons and other animals were slaughtered at Gadhimai, but thanks to tireless efforts by Humane Society International/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 theatre 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 groups 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 Humane Society International/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.
HSI/India representatives are available for interview, and will be producing photo and video reports of their patrol at the festival site in Nepal.
- HSI/India: Alokparna Sengupta firstname.lastname@example.org; Shambhavi Tiwari (0)8879834125; email@example.com;
- HSI/UK: Wendy Higgins +44 (0)7989 972 423; firstname.lastname@example.org
- The origins of Gadhimai date back around 265 years, when the founder of the Gadhimai Temple, Bhagwan Chowdhary, had a dream that the goddess Gadhimai wanted blood in return for freeing him from prison, protecting him from evil and promising prosperity and power. The goddess asked for a human sacrifice, but Chowdhary successfully offered an animal instead, and this has been repeated every five years since.
The animal movements from India are in violation of the order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 along with the Export-Import Policy of India and the Foreign Trade Act (Development and Regulation) Act 1992 which categorically places live cattle and buffalo in the restricted export category, requiring a license to legally export them. This rule is being openly flouted as the majority of animals are transported illegally across the border without an export license.