The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs has directed the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to ensure that no movement of animals to Nepal takes place during the month of November, which if implemented, could check the largest mass animal slaughter in the world.
At least a quarter of a million animals—almost 70 percent of them brought from India—are sacrificed during the Gadhimai festival , as devotees from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh flock to Barayapur in Bara for the month-long festival. The two-day sacrificial ritual is scheduled for November 28 and 29.
In a letter dated September 25, Joint Secretary at the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs Sanjay Kumar Mishra has asked chief secretaries in those states to take precautionary measures as an estimated 90,000 buffaloes will be ‘illegally’ transported to Nepal for the sacrifices.
“I request you to kindly issue appropriate direction to District Authorities especially those of the districts bordering Nepal to ensure that no movement of animals from your state takes place in the month of November. Special attention may please be given between 24 November and 29 November, during which most of the animals may be taken across the border,” reads the statement, adding that the armed border force has already been directed to ensure the prevention of such a movement of animals from the Indian states to Nepal.
Chairman of the Gadhimai festival organising committee Ram Chandra Shah, however, doubts that this effort alone would be enough to cut the number of animals sacrificed. He said they had heard of such “letters in the past but without much effect.”
“We don’t invite people to come with animals. It is their own conviction that brings them here to the shrine of Goddess Gadhi and carry out sacrifices,” said Shah. They are expecting a turnout of almost 10 million people over the course of the festival.
The festival is observed every five years in honour of goddess Gadhimai in southern Nepal. Animals are brought to the temple for sacrifice—a gesture devotees believe will bring them prosperity. Along with buffaloes, a slew of other animals such as rats, snakes, pigeons, chicken, ducks, goats and sheep are slaughtered.
“If people come to us and say ‘sacrificing will help my family, cure my son’s ailment’, who are we to stop them?” he asked.
Shah said they would welcome people to protest if anyone wanted to try and persuade devotees to change their minds. “But they will not be able to,” he said.
“Things are different this time around,” said Manoj Gautam, president of Animal Welfare Network Nepal. Last time, the directive had not been enforced until the last moment, but for the upcoming slaughter they are taking all necessary steps beforehand. He said they are working closely with major animal rights groups in India that have been advocating to make sure that people are sensitised about the issue in order to avoid a situation where thousands of animals could be stranded at the border. He also said they were working to strengthen vigilance on the border in the period. “The number of animals is going to be reduced significantly,” said Gautam.
Lumley joins campaign
Animal Rights activists around the world have been calling for the mass slaughter of animals to be stopped. On Saturday, British actress Joanna Lumley submitted a petition to the Nepali embassy in London, demanding action from the government.
“What Gadhimai represents—in terms of the scale, the intensity of cruelty that goes on there and the haphazardness that goes on at that event—is beyond anyone’s imagination,” said Gautam. “Unless that is toppled we can’t deal with the whole issue of animal sacrifice .
“Many animals were dead before they’re hacked. Their basic welfare was compromised. They were bought seven days ago and there was no single drum of water, no food. They die of dehydration, starvation,” said Gautam who saw the sacrificial ritual in 2009.
After the festival, the meat and bones of the animals are sold to Indian and Nepali companies, and, said Gautam, without proper regulation it could open a potential floodgate of health hazards.