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Animal Equality report: The Beginning of the End of the Animal Sacrifice at Gadhimai festival

United Kingdom

The Beginning of the End of the Animal Sacrifice at Gadhimai festival:

- The number of large animals sacrificed at the Gadhimai festival is reduced by 69%

- AE uses a drone to expose the mass cruelties and conduct a headcount of the dead animals. 

- AE assists officials to save hundreds of animals at the border

 

 

The Gadhimai festival takes place every 5 years in Bariyarpur, Bara District of southern Nepal. The last festival took place in 2009 where more than two hundred thousand animals such as buffaloes, goats, pigs, mice and pigeons were sacrificed. More than 90% of the visitors to the Gadimai festival are from bordering Indian states and they take animals with them.

Since majority of the festival visitors are Indians, we met with the officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs and requested them to stop the movement of animals across the border during the month of November.

In a prompt action, the MHA in April 2014 issued a directive to restrict movement of animals and people during the Gadhimai festival. This marked the beginning of our efforts to end the sacrifice.

We have always worked towards transforming orders into action, be it from the government or the courts. In the month of September our team visited Bihar and met with all the concerned officials to ensure the order issued by the Government of India is implemented in November.

We requested the Police department and the Border Police, SSB to give us permission to assist them at the border. We also conducted a fact finding mission at the border to establish the frequently used entry points by the devotees to transport the animals.

Later we visited the Gadhimai temple to learn facts about the festival. Animal Equality was the first to expose the trade conducted in the name of ‘tradition’ at Gadhimai temple. The priests confessed on record how agencies are given tenders to sell meat and leather.

After our return in September, we began working towards executing our plan which involved placing volunteers at the Indo-Nepal border to assist the officials, creating awareness among the devotees in Bihar who practice animal sacrifice and investigating and documenting the animal sacrifice at Gadhimai festival, so that the world can learn about the mass and brutal killings.

IMPLEMENTATION OF THE BAN (24th-28th Nov)

Around 30 volunteers offered to assist the officials at the border; out of these 10 were from Maharashtra and Delhi and the rest were locals.
 


The aim was to ensure that the order issued by the Government of India banning the movement of animals across Indo-Nepal border was implemented. Animal Equality’s Amruta Ubale and Amey Deshmukh met with the DIG of SSB and IG of Police to discuss strategies and to give insights on the issue.

The Bihar-Nepal border is as wide as 625km and is all porous. Since we had a limited number of volunteers, we placed them strategically at points which were frequently used by the devotees to transport animals.

We observed that animals were treated as mere commodities. Most of the devotees were aware of the ban on transport of animals and made all attempts to hide animals and birds while at the check posts. The vehicles were overcrowded with devotees and the women hid the pigeons under their sarees, sweaters and shawls while other pigeons were crammed in small bamboo baskets, cages and plastic or net bags. Goats were crammed in corners or kept between the legs and men slept over the weak buffalo babies.
 

The animals were not given the required food, water or space. It was evident that all of these animals were crammed in space so small, that they could not move an inch, let alone getting up and forced to sit in their own excreta. They were transported in such conditions for hours.

Our volunteers checked every vehicle and brought every animal to the attention of the officials. All these animals were seized by the officials. Once the animals were brought down from the vehicles we observed that they were struck with extreme terror and fear; some animals stayed silent while other animals cried in fear. We could see tears and dried tear marks around the eyes of these rescued animals. We tried to comfort them and provided feed and water to them.
 

We also observed that some devotees had abandoned their animals before the check posts because of fear of officials. While some others devotees came prepared with a blade to cut the ears of goats and buffaloes. Cutting of the ear is a ritual performed if the animal cannot be sacrificed. There were two instances where the devotees managed to cut the ears of one goat and buffalo, even before we could unload the animals from the vehicles. After witnessing this, we kept vigil and made sure they did no such thing.
 

The word soon spread out that the main entry points were monitored by the officials. Some of the devotees managed to sneak the animals from the adjoining fields. Since the border is so wide, open and porous it was not feasible to catch each and every transport attempt but we saved as many animals we could. Hundreds of animals and birds were saved by the team of officials and volunteers. The total number of animals saved was more than 2000.
 

CARE OF RESCUED ANIMALS (8th Dec- 17th Dec)

QUARANTINE:

The quarantine center located just few hundred yards in Nepal across the India-Nepal was deserted with no animals in the vicinity even as Indians were approaching the border with several animals including buffaloes, pigeons, goats etc. This meant that animals were not  inspected during the days of the festival, violating the Nepal Supreme Court order which directed the officials to follow existing laws (Animal Health and Livestock Services Act of Nepal).

ANIMAL SACRIFICE AT GADHIMAI (25th-29th Nov):

Our investigation team armed with DSLRs, handy cams and drone cameras set out on a mission to document the pre and post festival activities.

QUARANTINE:

The quarantine center located just few hundred yards in Nepal across the India-Nepal was deserted with no animals in the vicinity even as Indians were approaching the border with several animals including buffaloes, pigeons, goats etc.

TRANSPORT:

Some goats were tethered; others carried the goats in their arms. People carried the goats in the crowded buses amidst heavy pushing that the animals were subjected to. Others stuffed the scared goats into the closed tiny luggage compartments located at the end of the buses, between the vehicle’s rear lights. The goats were stuffed into the luggage compartments without any ventilation, food, water and bedding. The tiny compartments were very small and many goats were forced to endure the 10+ kilometer journey via Kalaiya village crouching in the dark, closed, tiny luggage compartments. Some goats were dumped on the roofs of the buses along with luggage. Some goats were stuffed into bags and transported on bicycles. Most animals like buffaloes and goats were walked. Very few goats were transported in tractors, buses, minivans and on bicycles. Chicken were spotted stuffed in plastic covers and held inhumanely by their wings. Pigeons were bought in wooden boxes or carried in bare hands in some cases.

Folklore belief is that cruelty to animals before the sacrifice angers the Goddess Gadhimai but the treatment of animals, especially during the transportation, revealed that the so-called followers of Gadhimai didn’t care about the welfare of the animals before the sacrifice nor for Goddess Gadhimai’s anger.
 

SALE:

Pigeons were being sold in baskets along the path leading to Gadhimai Temple. The pigeons were crammed together with little space to move. Their wings were clipped to prevent the birds from taking flight. The birds were being sold at NRs. 500 a pair.
 

HOLDING AREA:

Weak, exhausted and reluctant calves forced to walk several kilometers with little or no water and food were pushed by bare hands and forced to enter the enclosure. Majority of the buffaloes were calves and they were malnourished or extremely thin/weak, due to long distances that the buffaloes were made to cover to reach Gadhimai temple with little food and water along the journey. So thin were the animals that their bones were visible and jutting out. Calves were desperately crying aloud in the ground, perhaps missing their mother. The desperate cry was heart-breaking. Few calves were tethered inside the ground. With limited food/hay and insufficient water from three pipes to suffice for over 2,000 buffaloes in the ground, most buffaloes were spotted flat on the ground, almost motionless, evidently due to extreme exhaustion from the arduous journey.
 

ANIMAL SACRIFICE:

The executioners said they felt they were blessed to be the ones allowed to perform the task of sacrificing the buffaloes for Gadhimai deity. Rarely were the buffaloes hacked in one blow and only a lucky few had a quick, less painful death. Most buffaloes were hacked repeatedly as the untrained executioners swung blow one after another at the animal with their blunt machetes. Some buffaloes were hacked more than 5 times and their head was sliced away gradually from the bodies.
 

The buffaloes were subjected to watch other buffaloes being killed before their very eyes. Soon, the petrified buffaloes horrified by the massacre huddled together in corners to escape the sight of the executioners in a desperate attempt to live. Coming to terms with the killing, many buffaloes began moaning aloud out of fear, desperation and horror as they walked in the ground filled with corpses of their companions. They walked along the carcass, sniffing their kind, coming to terms with the death unfolding in front of their eyes. Some ran for their lives, desperately to outrun the executioners and flee to safety but to no avail.
 

As the carnage was underway inside the ground, goats, rams, pigeons, ducks, roosters were being sacrificed by thousands of devotees in the acres of land including farms surrounding the fair. The entire sight was primitive; unprecedented killing all around. All animals were killed after water was sprinkled on them.

ENVIRONMENT AND HEALTH HAZARDS:

The devotees had camped out in the fields surrounding the temple. The fields were infested with human excreta and all the waste like plastic bottles, covers, etc was dumped openly. As we approached the enclosure the stench and stink emanating from rotting carcasses grew increasingly unbearable. The ground was filled with the severed heads and their intestines and stomachs – which are not consumed and hence left as waste were rotting from day before. Near the killing ground, men were occupied in roasting the decaying meat.

TRADE HAMPERED

The Gadhimai temple had issued a contract to one Dhirender Singh, with an aim to earn total amount of NRs1,60,00,000 from the hide and the bones (NRs.1600 per large animal). There was another quotation received by the temple committee for NRs.2100 but this party did not have a bank guarantee. The meat of the sacrificed animals was to be exported to countries like China, Malaysia, etc but the Dalit community members piled as many carcasses as they could lay their hands on, to claim as theirs. Because of the orders issued by the Government of India and its implementation efforts, the number of animals at the sacrificial ground witnessed a heavy dip. The temple committee was expecting to slaughter 10,000 buffaloes but managed to slaughter not more than 2000. 

The animals were kept in the holding area against a fee of NRs.100 per animal. As of 24th Nov, 144 animals were entered in the holding area register, where they expected thousands. The locals with vested interests in the animal sacrifice were outraged with the ban issued by the Government of India and stated that by 24th Nov, there could have been thousands of animals in the holding area, had there not been a ban on the transport of animals. The total number of large animals sacrificed in the enclosure reduced by around 69%.

According to a report the number of animals sacrificed in the enclosure on day 1 in 2009 was around 6000 and in 2014 it was not more than 2000. In 2009, temple committee continued to sacrifice animals in the enclosure on day 2 but in 2014, animals were not sacrificed on day 2 in the enclosure. As shared earlier the animal sacrifice at Gadhimai temple is nothing but trade carried out in the name of ‘tradition’. This money making scam hit an all time low this time, because the number of animals sacrificed at the festival reduced drastically. The temple committee was unable to make money off the meat and the contractor who was to pay NRs NRs1,60,00,000  to the temple committee fled because the number of animals were very less. Because of this the contractor incurred a huge loss and the temple committee did not get any payments.

DEBUNKING MYTHS:

The common belief among the devotees who throng the festival is that a lamp ignites itself – a supernatural act of Goddess Gadhimai. The lighting of the lamp marks the start of the ritual slaughter; hence it is a very prominent and eagerly awaited feature in the festival. However, during the investigation into how the lamp lights up on its own, it was found that the real truth is far from both, the common belief among the lakhs of devotees and the supernatural. The lamp is very much lit by one of the priests conducting the puja at the foot of the tree. It was documented that the oil lamp’s wick was lit with a lighter (one similar to those commonly used to light cigarettes). There was no supernatural element involved whatsoever.
 

The shrugging of water off the body by the animals is perceived as a divine sign that the animals are now owned by Gadhimai deity and hence, ready for being offered by means of sacrifice. However, simply put, after water is poured on animals, they naturally tend to shrug the water off in an attempt to dry them. It is a natural tendency of most animals to do the same and can be easily observed among dogs and cats as well or animals who get drenched in rain. However, in the festival, the same act of the animal drying itself is viewed and misconstrued as a supernatural act.
 

Many devotees claimed that the carcasses of the animals at the Gadhimai festival will not have a single fly on it. This according to them is the divine power of the goddess presumably to keep the meat clean for the devotees. But as we walked pass the carcasses we documented hordes of flies.

HYPOCRISY:

At the panchbali puja, our investigator was asked by one of the organisers to step down from the mud at the foot of the tree as the priest assumed he was wearing leather shoes. This is a festival where leather is sold after sacrificing buffaloes to a Goddess who yearns from offering of blood. And here, where priests were drinking blood after sacrificing innocent creatures, the organisers had a problem with shoes being made of leather!
 

CONCLUSION:

At the Gadhimai festival many people sacrificed animals thinking they would get blessings from the goddess but animals too are children of the goddess and how will any goddess ask for death of one child for the betterment of the other. Instead of warding off the superstitions, the temple priests found it as lucrative means of business. Priests charged a fee for every slaughtered animal. 

Animal Equality is committed to putting in stronger efforts in the future for creating awareness among the devotees. When we interviewed the priests in September, we asked them how the tradition of animal sacrifice began. Because the original tradition began with human blood, when Bhagwan Chaudhary a feudal landlord imprisoned in Makwanpur fort, dreamt that his problems would be solved if he made a blood sacrifice to goddess Gadhimai. On his release he approached a local village healer.

The descendant of the healer, Dukha Kachadiya started the ritual with drops of his own blood, from five parts of his body. But the priest had no story to cite, about animal sacrifice, indicating that it actually holds no significance and probably practiced because it proves to be an opportunity to make millions of rupees. But the 2014 Gadhimai Festival saw a heavy dip in the number of animals, as much as 69 per cent drop in buffaloes bought for slaughter. The temple committee was expecting to slaughter 10,000 buffaloes but managed to slaughter not more than 2000. The two-day long slaughter festival was reduced to a one-day long slaughter festival owing to reduction in buffaloes bought for sacrifice. 

This year three people were killed due to extreme cold and stampede and one young girl was gang raped. Animal Equality is saddened by these atrocities too and hopes the organizers implement measures to save human lives. As an animal rights organization we are against the animal sacrifice and the animal cruelties at Gadhimai festival and not the festival itself. We will be happy to see a Gadhimai festival without any animal sacrifice or animal cruelty. We witnessed many other facets to this festival other than animal sacrifice and urge the organizers to continue the festival with those and let go off animal killings and torture. There were some devotees who shared with us that it is not necessary to sacrifice animals; one can sacrifice a vegetable like pumpkin or coconut after their wishes are fulfilled.

This indeed is the beginning of the end of animal sacrifice. We are dedicated now more than ever to end the sacrifice of animals at Gadhimai festival.