Cruelty and compassion

KILLING FIELDS: Animal rights advocate Sneha Shrestha (above) feeding buffaloes the night before the slaughter. Activists tried unsuccessfully to stop the mass killings on 3-4 December in Bara. Photo: LAXMI PRASAD NGAKHUSI

Rambhu Paswan was among 100 men hired by the Gadimai Temple this week to kill animals on behalf of at least 2 million devotees from India and Nepal who thronged to the shrine in Bara district to give thanks for wishes fulfilled. At least 10,000 buffaloes, goats and fowl were slaughtered on 3-4 December. Paswan himself decapitated at least 40 buffaloes, receiving Rs6,000 per day to kill the corralled animals one by one.

“It was hard to breathe in the beginning, and I could not hold my weapon. I drank some water and told myself the job has to be done,” said the farmer from Bara.

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Ram Narayan Ram was also at first unable to start killing. “I was sweating, and chanted prayers to the goddess to continue,” said Ram, who felled 30 buffaloes on the first day, not all of them with one blow. He killed another 100 or so goats and chickens the next day.

Both Paswan and Ram have performed the ritual slaughter at Gadimai before, and use earnings to support their families.

The killings went ahead this year despite outrage and outcry in Nepal and worldwide. Nepal’s Supreme Court had in 2016 directed authorities not to allow the slaughter. India’s apex court also ruled in 2014 against transporting animals across the border to be killed at Gadimai.

Read also: Overkill in Gadimai, Lucia de Vries and Deepak Adhikari

The court decisions and strong lobbying by activists on both sides of the border reduced the number of sacrifices this year. Volunteers from Friends of Animal Welfare Nepal (FAWN) patrolled the Nepal-India border in the weeks before the festival, and activists met district officials to ask them to heed the Supreme Court ruling.

“Despite our effort to make this festival bloodless, the sacrifices went ahead with blind faith in the tradition,” said FAWN’s Sneha Shrestha, whose team was feeding and tending to the animals till the end. “We did everything to save the innocent lives. The temple committee and the CDO did not keep their promise.”

Bara’s Chief District Officer Phanindra Mani Pokhrel said last week his administration was trying its best to discourage the killings. Temple head priest Mangal Chaudhary told Nepali Times: “You can just sacrifice a coconut, or offer flowers and sweets to the goddess.”

But neither the government nor the temple appeared willing, or able, to stand up to public pressure for the mass killings. Unlike religious sacrifice, the animals at Gadimai are not slaughtered to be eaten later, but left to rot.

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