Gadhimai festival: Mass slaughter of animals begins in Nepal despite outcry

Shirish B Pradhan

Kathmandu, Dec 3 (PTI) The five-yearly Gadhimai Festival, believed to be the world's biggest animal sacrifice at one place, began in southern Nepal on Tuesday in the presence of a huge number of pilgrims from India, amidst protests by animal activists.

Though the month-long festival started on November 17, the main sacrifice days are on December 3 and 4.

The sacrifice formally began with the slaughtering of five different animals -- rat, goat, pigeon, chicken and pig -- at the main temple of Gadhimai under Mahagadhimai Municipality-1 in Bara district, about 160 km south of Kathmandu.

Tens of thousands of people have poured in from different parts of Nepal and India to take part in the festival to honour a Hindu goddess.

The mass sacrifice at Gadhimai Temple is said to be the cruellest form of animal slaughtering in public religious places, according to the International Organisation for Animal Protection (IOAP).

Millions of animals are hijacked in a ground with few peoples carrying blunt blades and chase them to slit and behead with several attempts leading to slow and hard death, it said.

The slaughter house spreading across 1,45,000 square feet in the premises of Gadhimai temple currently houses 5,000 buffalos and more than 50,000 animals are estimated to be slaughtered in the two-day sacrifice, according to an animal rights activist.

More than 5 million pilgrims are expected to arrive at Gadhimai during the month-long festival.

The sacrifice of buffaloes began at the temple on Tuesday despite the Supreme Court's verdict that bans animal sacrifice at the temple in the name of religion.

Around 70 per cent of the pilgrims at the festival come from neighbouring India as authorities in the country do not allow such acts of animal sacrifice.

Animal rights activists, civil society groups and vegan groups have been campaigning for the past couple of months to stop the blood shed.

Despite efforts from different quarters to stop the massive killing of animals, Nepali authorities express helplessness in stopping the age-old, faith-based tradition.

In August 2016, the Supreme Court, in response to a petition filed against the slaughter, had issued an order to the government to stop animal sacrifices at Gadhimai fair.

This time the temple authorities have banned the sacrifice of pigeons only in symbolic honour to the verdict of the apex court.

To honour the court's orders it has decided not to kill any pigeons, as the bird is a sign of peace, said the Gadhimai Festival Main Committee.

'We didn't ask the people to bring animals for slaughter,' said Ramchandra Sah Teli, chair of Gadhimai Temple Management Committee.

'They came on their own. It's an age-old tradition that they adhere to and it is what makes the festival so popular,' he explained.

However, animal rights activist Sneha Shrestha, who is the chairperson of Federation of Animal Welfare Nepal (FAWN), said, 'The security personnel deployed by the government and the temple authorities have been encouraging the animal sacrifice despite the Supreme Court's order.' They are not doing anything to discourage animal sacrifice, she pointed out.

'This sacrifice is carried out under their patronage and we are very ashamed of what happened today,' Shrestha said, who has been actively involved in treating sick animals in Gadhimai.

The government should be responsible for what has happened, she said.

Many animal rights activists like Shrestha are spending a month at Gadhimai campaigning against the animal sacrifice.

'We don't have an act for animal welfare in Nepal. We demand that the government introduce laws to ensure animal welfare. Sacrificing animals is superstitious. The gods won't be happy if innocent animals are killed,' Shrestha said.

Hundreds of Indian pilgrims were seen participating in the sacrificing rituals.

'I have great respect for goddess Gadhimai. We are happy to provide our offering. It is our choice,' said Bishwanath Kalawar from Motihari in India.

According to Mangal Chaudhary, the main priest at the temple, the auspicious date to sacrifice buffaloes is Tuesday, and Wednesday for other animals.

Journalists and local people are not allowed to enter the temple premises to take photographs of the sacrifice. But some photo journalists made small holes in the boundary wall of the temple to capture the bloody scenes.

In the pictures available online, the temple premises seem to have turned red with animal blood and cut flesh.

In view of possible protests, security has been intensified with around 2,500 security personnel deployed. Along the Nepal-India border security has been tightened and 70 closed-circuit cameras installed.

'We are especially taking care of the security of pilgrims,' said Superintendent of Police Bikash Khanal.

In 2014, according to nearly 2,50,000 animals were slaughtered in Gadhimai.

According to tradition, people, mainly from the Hindu community, come here to sacrifice animals after their wishes have been fulfilled to please the presiding deity. PTI SBP IND