Mass beheading of 3,500 buffaloes at Nepal’s Gadhimai festival, but death toll is record low thanks to crackdown by animal groups and Indian law enforcement

Humane Society International/India witnesses harrowing scenes of mass slaughter

Humane Society International / Nepal


Warning: Document contains graphic descriptions of animals being killed

Arkaprava Bahar / HSI

Gadhimai, NEPAL – Animal campaigners from Humane Society International/India at the Gadhimai festival in Nepal have witnessed harrowing scenes of animal suffering as the world’s largest animal sacrifice event got underway in the early hours. Scenes included baby buffaloes bellowing for their mothers as they watched them being beheaded in the Temple arena, and others collapsing from exhaustion, sickness and stress as devotees tried to drag them to their death. Despite these deeply upsetting scenes, HSI says the combined efforts of animal welfare groups, faith groups and armed law enforcement at the India-Nepal border have resulted in many thousands fewer animals being slaughtered than at the same event when it last occurred five years ago.

Before the slaughter began, members of the HSI/India delegation pleaded with the Gadhimai Temple head priest, Mangal Chowdhury, to stop the killing, but he refused to act. The priest’s inaction comes despite the Gadhimai Temple Trust having pledged to ban animal sacrifice in 2015 after the last festival took place.

As dawn broke today, an estimated 3,500 buffaloes were gathered in the main Temple arena for the mass beheading, most smuggled illegally across the border from India under cover of darkness. Hundreds of young buffaloes have died in the past few days from sickness and exposure, but these numbers are vastly reduced from previous festivals. At its height in 2009, the sacrifice event took the lives of around 500,000 buffaloes, goats, pigeons and other animals, and following protests this was reduced to 30,000 in 2014. Over the past year, however, animal groups such as HSI/India, HSI/Nepal, Federation of Animal Welfare Nepal and People for Animals have launched a series of public awareness campaigns to urge devotees not to bring animals, and this has proved successful for many devotees.

Alokparna Sengupta, Humane Society International/India’s managing director, said from Gadhimai: “Being here at the Gadhimai sacrifice is one of the most depressing and challenging experiences of my life. The suffering of these animals is so upsetting, they have endured exhausting journeys to get here and are paraded in front of a baying crowd as all around them they witness other animals being decapitated one by one. Buffalo calves look on in bewilderment as their mothers are slaughtered in front of them. The hysteria and apparent jubilation at seeing confused and frightened animals being slaughtered was very disturbing. We pleaded with the Temple priest to do something to stop the bloodshed, as he has the influence to make a difference, but he has chosen to do nothing as far as we are aware, despite the Temple having promised an animal sacrifice ban five years ago. Confronted with such terrible scenes of animal slaughter, we take comfort from knowing that many thousands more animals would have died but have been spared this massacre due to the combined efforts of animal groups, multi faith groups and the Indian border force. We helped save hundreds of baby goats, pigeons and buffaloes at the border, and devotees have brought thousands fewer buffaloes than at previous Gadhimai events. We may not have a bloodless Gadhimai this time, but we are determined that one day we will see an end to this gruesome spectacle.”

Tanuja Basnet, director of Humane Society International/Nepal, witnessed the slaughter and said: “Such scenes of animal suffering are a stain on Nepal’s international reputation. There is no justification for this mass killing, and it is truly heart breaking to witness, especially knowing that the Temple could and should have kept its promise to help these animals. It has been left to animal groups like HSI, FAWN, PFA and others to intervene over the past year and urge people not to bring animals for sacrifice. If we had not acted, the lives of many thousands more animals would have been wasted. But it is now time for the Nepal government to step up and introduce a ban in law on animal sacrifice so that this is the last time we witness such horrors at Gadhimai.”

What has been done to stop the slaughter?

  • The Supreme Court of Nepaldirected government bodies to reduce animal sacrifice at the festival.
  • 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.
  • HSI/India 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, worked together to urge the government to ban religious animal sacrifice ​across all religious, cultural, caste, ethnic and linguistic groups in Nepal.
  • HSI asked members of the public to send an urgent pleato 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, refused to provide their services by way of protest.
  • HSI/Nepal supported a joint initiative by animal welfare groups and the Mahagadhimai municipality to stop the sacrifice of pigeons brought to Gadhimai. Permanent pigeon houses were built to which devotees were urged to bring their pigeons for release and lifetime care.

Download photos of HSI’s border patrol and #BloodlessGadhimai activities here.

ENDS

Media contacts:

HSI/India representatives are available for interview, and will be producing photo and video reports of their patrol at the festival site in Nepal.

Notes

  • 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.

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