By Sharon St Joan
In the late November cold, teams from Chennai and other Indian cities are camping out in the open along the Nepal/India border. They are there to stop as many animals as possible from crossing the border to become part of the horrifying scene of sacrifice during the Gadhimai Festival that takes place every five years, and which is due to happen on November 28 and 29, Friday and Saturday, of this week.
These brave volunteers work with the police and border authorities. The teams patrol between the police stations and border posts. They are not allowed to stop any cattle. Instead, they can observe and take photos and video, recording what they see. They report to the police any violations or any animals they see from India crossing the border. They will collect evidence.
In many places, the border crossings are three to five kilometers apart, so it can be easy for people smuggling animals to slip unseen past the border guards. The Nepal/India border is a remote area where conditions are harsh.
The police can confiscate or turn back animals being exported illegally. So far, hundreds of cattle have already been turned back from the border by the police, following tips from the animal advocates.
The Supreme Court of India intervenes
A suit related to Gadhimai was filed with the Supreme Court, in Delhi, by Gauri Mauleki, Trustee of PFA Uttarakhand (People for Animals – Uttarakhand) and Consultant to Humane Society International. On October 17, the Supreme Court issued a directive that all illegal movement of animals across the Indian border into Nepal, for the sacrifice at the Gadhimai festival, must be stopped by the police and the border patrol. Animals will not be allowed to be taken across the border.
Notices were sent out to federal authorities and to the border states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and West Bengal to stop the flow of animals into Nepal. Around 70% of the animals sacrificed come from India so this is expected to greatly diminish the numbers of animals killed. Animal sacrifice is illegal in India.
In the past, although export of cattle and buffalo required a license, this requirement was simply ignored. Now, with the presence of so many volunteers assisting the police and documenting the movement of animals, the police cannot turn a blind eye, and action will be taken.
In issuing the ruling, Justice Kehar of the Supreme Court of India noted that the Gadhimai animal sacrifice is “demeaning and cruel.”
Major funding for this effort has been very generously donated by Kim Bartlett of Animal People News.
Dr. Chinny Krishna, Vice-Chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India and Chairman Emeritus of Blue Cross of India, played a direct role in bringing together teams going to help along the border.
Fourteen volunteers from Blue Cross of India have gone, including Dawn Williams, Blue Cross’s General Manager, who regularly leads rescue teams on daring and difficult rescues in Chennai. More volunteers will join them over the next few days. Altogether, 25 volunteers from Chennai are in the field, from Blue Cross and FIAPO, bringing eight motorcycles with them. All-wheel-drive vehicles have been hired in Bihar.
They traveled by train. It’s a long trip from Chennai – 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles). TVS Motors donated two of the motorcycles.
When there was a snag getting the motorcycles on the same train as the volunteers, the office of Maneka Gandhi, of People for Animals, and a senior Minister in the Union Government, intervened, and all was soon resolved.
Because of the extremely primitive conditions along the border, the initial thought of Blue Cross was that only men should go. This was met by charges of sexism, so the decision was reviewed, and it was announced that women are welcome to participate. Three women from Hyderabad are taking part, and part of their expenses are being paid by Blue Cross.
Another team has been sent to the Uttar Pradesh/Nepal border.
“A financial aspect”
Speaking about the horrifying sacrifice of around 500,000 animals, which takes place in Bara, Nepal, around 100 miles south of Kathmandu, Dr. Chinny Krishna commented, “There is always a financial aspect.” The remains of the sacrificed animals; cattle, buffaloes, goats, pigeons, chickens, and rats, are already contracted to be sold to a Chinese company.
The festival was started in modern times, about a hundred years ago, by a man who was a convicted felon. Today, his grandson is the chief priest of the Gadhimai temple. This is the largest single sacrifice of animals anywhere in the world. Virtually every temple in Nepal does some animal sacrifice. The only one that does not is Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu which was founded by Adi Shankara, one of the greatest of all Hindu saints, who lived in the eighth century BCE and who was a strict proponent of the Hindu vegetarian tradition. The priests of Pashupatinath come from the south of India and would never perform any animal sacrifice.
Animal sacrifice is no more a part of Hinduism than witch burning is a part of Christianity. There are fanatics in every religion who propagate false teachings of violence and hatred.
Continued in part two. For part two, click here.
Photos: Courtesy of Blue Cross of India
To visit the website of Blue Cross of India, click here.
For the website of Humane Society International – India, click here.
For the website of PFA-Uttarakhand, click here.
For the website of Animal Welfare Network Nepal, click here.