With our team on the ground, Humane Society International (HSI) and its partners are making pretty remarkable progress to halt the largest religious sacrifice spectacle in the world — in the mountain nation of Nepal where nearly half a million animals could be hacked to death later this week.
Participants in the sacrifice have been hauling and carrying water buffaloes, goats, sheep, pigs, chicken, and pigeons to Nepal’s Bara district, just 100 miles outside the capital city of Kathmandu, for the Gadhimai festival.
This is how N.G. Jayasimha, who heads the HSI office in India, described the sacrifice in an op-ed this week for The Guardian: “One by one they have their roped heads yanked down, their kicking hind legs restrained, and then their heads sliced off with a machete. Others are so exhausted from travelling hundreds of miles to the festival without food or water, that they simply languish even as all around them buffaloes and goats are being decapitated. I have even seen calves trying to nuzzle comfort from the severed heads of their mothers lying on the ground.”
As Jayasimha goes on to write, the sights and sounds are unimaginable. Pools of blood, animals bellowing in pain and panic, wide-eyed children looking on, and devotees covered in animal blood.
The bloody spectacle has been repeated every five years for more than 250 years now, but surely it has no place in the 21st century.
Over the past months, HSI staff members, along with our partners, Animal Welfare Network Nepal and People for Animals in India, have adopted a multi-pronged approach to persuade the Nepalese and the Indian governments and religious leaders to stop the animal sacrifice and reduce the number of animals reaching the sacrificial site.
Estimating that 70 percent of the animals killed in Gadhimai are transported illegally across the border from neighboring India into Nepal, we successfully petitioned the Supreme Court of India on the issue. We won, and the high court issued an order directing the Government of India to stop animals being illegally transported across the border for sacrifice. The court also asked animal protection groups and others to devise an action plan to ensure the court order is implemented.
HSI worked with India’s Ministry of Home Affairs to issue a directive to the Indo-Nepal border forces, to stop and confiscate the animals, and to date 114 arrests have been made and more than 2,500 animals have been seized at the border, on their way to the festival. This is an incredible outcome given the long history of this spectacle.
The HSI/India team and its partners are working directly with the Department of Livestock Services in Nepal to build controlled zones and quarantine stations for each animal brought to the sacrifice. Our team has met with temple officials and the Nepal government, including a rare audience with Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav and Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, and members of parliament. We urged them to bring an end to the mass animal sacrifice at Gadhimai.
We also requested that language promoting animal welfare and compassion towards all living creatures be added to Nepal’s constitution, similar to language in India’s constitution, and that legislation be introduced to tackle animal cruelty in the Kingdom.
We have a formidable group of people working for us, including HSI board member Dr Nanditha Krishna who has succeeded in banning animal sacrifice in 52 villages in India. Right now, in Gadhimai, our team is making one final attempt to persuade the temple priest to cancel the sacrifice. Meanwhile, our work to stop animals from getting to the sacrifice site in the first place continues full steam as Jayasimha and his team along with our partners patrol the India-Nepal border and the festival itself.
“It is a life-saving mission I know I must make,” Jayasimha wrote, “but I go back to Gadhimai full of dread and fear. I know it is going to be hard, but someone needs to help these animals.”
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