Nepali Times
Animal fights



There I was, in deep discussion with a member of the Animal Welfare Network Nepal, getting the low-down on the impending sacrifice of half a million animals at the Gadhimai Mela in the southern district of Bara. "It sounds like madness," I nodded as I listened to her deride what seemed a veritable orgy of alcohol-fuelled slaughter condoned by mass superstition to the ends of organised crime syndicates.

Then a friend who'd been listening in blurted out: "Didn't you just take part in one of those things?"

It was true. Only months back, I'd visited my ancestral village northwest of Dhankuta under the pretext of attending a kuldevata puja, wherein 400 goats had been sacrificed to our clan gods (#470, 'The land of my fathers'). Or was it the other way around? No doubt discovering the land of my fathers was a profound experience, but would it have been the same without the excitement of that day of bloody colours?

"I'm sorry, I'm a totally compromised animal lover," I offered lamely, but my cover was blown.

Not that caring for animals precludes the killing and eating of them. But ideally, it should at its core consist of a conviction that if we use animals for labour, food, entertainment or companionship, our treatment of them should be humane, in as much as killing can be humane.

Many campaigners for animal rights, too, understand that foisting vegetarianism upon the essentially omnivorous human species is unlikely to work. They are therefore willing to accept that most people (for the foreseeable future) will continue to eat meat, as long as the process by which they obtain their meat is kosher, so to speak. Life is full of half-measures after all, else we would be either gods or demons, not humans.

What this means in practice is not always so clear. While I've always found it a little disturbing to see roadside goats tethered next to the remains of their erstwhile companions, I am not convinced slaughterhouses are better in any sense other than that of scaled-up efficiency and hygiene. These are good enough reasons to keep animal slaughter out of the public space, surely, but in a country where animal sacrifice is so deeply embedded in religious culture, one can't just decree it out of existence.

How then does one who accepts animal sacrifice as virtually indistinguishable from the process of obtaining meat for food face up to slaughter on the almost unimaginable scale of the Gadhimai Mela? The Animal Welfare Network Nepal and the 1000-strong membership of the various Mela committees are diametrically opposed on the issue of animal sacrifice, and may inevitably end up demonising one another. Those in between may root for those half-measures?- quarantine checks and vaccinations for livestock, adequate arrangements for the anticipated 10 million pilgrims, transparency in Mela finances, among other things - but what of the actual fact of the mass slaughter?

It is the fact of the slaughter, more than anything else, that attracts or repulses. The imagery employed by those speaking out against the mass sacrifice - drunken men hacking away at 20,000 hapless young buffalos, a marshland of blood and gore - betrays a horror of industrial scale barbarism that is anathema to (western) notions of sanitised, civilised progress. The focus is on this barbarism. Never mind that 40 million turkeys are sacrificed in the name of the nation's history every thanksgiving in America. At root, the global protests against Gadhimai can be applied to all individual sacrifices in the name of religion that are conducted within the premises of the household, the temple, or the street. They constitute an appeal against the faltering machismo of the young Chettri boys compelled to wield khukuris on the fatted goat come Dasain, an initiation not only in manhood, but also, some would have you believe, barbarity.

So until we resolve the conundrum of animal sacrifice at the heart of Nepali Hinduism, we can work on making God's work a little less barbaric. If the Meat Act and the Animal Transportation Act are implemented, and if a much-needed Animal Welfare Act ever sees the light of day, then we will not only be performing a service to public health and safety, but will also do much to ease the suffering of those animals whose deaths we consider necessary to our lives.

Stop the slaughter - FROM ISSUE #475 (06 NOV 2009 - 12 NOV 2009)
Burning bright - FROM ISSUE #437 (06 FEB 2009 - 12 FEB 2009)
Fading light - FROM ISSUE #475 (06 NOV 2009 - 12 NOV 2009)

1. Sarath Guragain
Finally Nepali Times has a writer who can write. This guy's writing is crisp and succinct. Such a contrast from wannabe ones from all other English newspapers in Kathmandu. Nice one Rabi.

2. chandra Gurung
Gadhimai Mela is nothing but barbaric and human tragedy. So called brave men who carry out dragger need not be drunk if they are brave enough. Like in India, Nepal should banned public and godly sacrificial ceremony once and for all. We have been fooled enough by fools. It is time to wake up and live in a civilied manner. Where is the pleasure in causing harm and pain to others. Happiness and pleasure comes when we help someone, not hurt. I hope this will be a last Gadhimai festival. May we all live in peace.

3. maila dai
sacrifice is common cultural in Nepal but it has been eliminated from the world, lets hope that you media guys will speak on this issues more on it too so that we could have some less sacrifice in near future.

4. gangalal
This is a faux issue, a thorn on the side of wannabe modern smarty pants who are learning to repeat after the missionary masters. They're measuring themselves and their culture up and finding it inadequate in firangi's eyes. The real issue is the inequality in our society. Rest you can smoke it.

5. pwlasdl
this so-called "news" being circulated is yet another holier-than-thou hubris of western media. it reeks of a certain religious groups trying to throw negative light at another culture and heritage. killing is killing, however it's done. where is the protest against tens of millions of turkeys being killed this week in USA & Canada for thanksgiving rituals? there is no alternative to killing if you eat meat. better out in open so you see the gory details and cost of your source of meat, rather than in some hidden corporate slaughter houses. this outlandish "news" reporting is the height of hypocrisy!! 46 million turkeys who are set to be slaughtered for holiday meals of thanksgiving ritual ...

6. NS
So what is your main problem? Is it non-vegetarianism, is it the slaugther of animals, is it the open slaugther of animals or is it barbarism associated with animal slaughter? Would it have been better for our conscience if the slaugther had happened in a closed environment, out of the view of those who actually eat the meat. If barbarism is your concern, then maybe there should be a debate on it, whether it is in fact a crime to take a life to satisfy your palate, open or closed slaughter notwithstanding. The non-vegetarian delicacy is after all, remains of a dead animal and I can't understand how killing could have a more humane side. The fact is you kill to take a life, there is nothing that can make it more or less humane, it is barbaric in essense either way and whatever sugar-coated word you might use doesn't change the fact that taking an innocent life is barbaric, the location of the slaugther notwithstanding. And where has the advice come from? Apparently from countries whoe people are the largest consmers of meat in the world. Ironical, isn't it but apparently skin color still has that fixation we thought had been blunted. We know of course that people aren't going to die just because they leave meat out of their meals, there are other foods to compensate for every nutrient that meat, fish or sea food provides. So why eat meat in the first place? And if meat consumption cannot be stopped then why only blame the brown skinned or the yellow skinned people because they have infused meat eating in their socio-religious life? Why not start with the ones who simply cannot make a meal without adding meat or eat meat three times a day? I'm sorry to say this but you sound like a well-paid protege to a white missionary master, out to throw negative publicity by cashing on anything that doesn't match to the perceived superiority of the white people. As a vegetarian, I would be happy if the world changed to vegetarianism tomorrow but I don't believe I have a right to moral superiority over those who choose to be non-vegetarians. Maybe there is a good side to the 'barbarism' of the animal slaughter of Gadhimai mela. Perhaps it could be an eye-opener to the reality of animal killings. Maybe that will go to prick the conscience of the meat eaters blissfully unaware of how a live animal ends as a sanitized meal on their plates. And why just Hinduism? Aren't animal sacrifices a part of other religions as well? Or should we be afraid to point them out given the nervousness prevalent in today's world? I'm sorry but I really fail to take your point.

7. gulakha
and now even maoists are protesting this .. the same maoists that slaughtered innocent nepalis by the thousands ...

8. NS
I'm sure the Maoists wouldn't have protested if humans were sacrificed instead of animals. After all, human sacrifice is their speciality, a field in which they trained for a decade and completed a score of over fifteen thousand sacrifices and still counting.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)