Ending the sacrifice at Gadhimai, part two

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By Sharon St Joan

To read part one first, click here.

Meanwhile, Gauri Maulekhi, of HSI and PFA, appealed to the Supreme Court of India, which then issued a directive to close the India-Nepal border to any transport of animals into Nepal during the weeks preceding the festival.

Since most of the animals to be sacrificed came from India, closing the border had a momentous effect.

Large numbers of volunteers from Indian animal welfare groups arrived to assist the Border Patrol in spotting people trying to take animals to Nepal. They spoke with farmers and other animal transporters and, if they did not turn back, the volunteers followed up with the Border Patrol to make sure they were sent back.

Dawn Williams and his team from Blue Cross of India played a leading role in tracking down those attempting to smuggle animals into Nepal. A former commando, Dawn Williams rescues animals daily, often risking his life going down dangerous wells to pull out cows, dogs, cats, or other animals. Animal People contributed a generous grant to support this highly successful effort along the Indian/Nepalese border.

Jayasimha Nuggehalli and Alokparna Sengupta of HSI – India and many other volunteers were also there. All these courageous animal people, along with a great many others, on both sides of the border, worked long days and nights in hazardous, primitive conditions.

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The volunteers from the various groups rescued around 2,500 animals and sent them to shelters. Many thousands of animal owners and transporters were turned around, taking their animals back home with them.

Also in the days leading up to the event, in Nepal, Uttam Dahal of Nepal Animal Welfare and Research Centre approached Nepal’s Supreme Court, which issued a directive that all Nepalese laws were to be enforced by the police and adhered to by all local and national authorities and individuals, including the Nepal Animal Health and Livestock Services Act, the Nepal Animal Slaughterhouse and Meat Inspection Act, and the Environment Protection Act. In other words, the Court ruled that barbaric slaughter by machete in unsanitary conditions would not be allowed. This re-enforced the stance of animal activists that the Gadhimai sacrifice was illegal.

Jayasimha Nuggehalli and Alokparna Sengupta in a journal described the difficult and dangerous circumstances of their work along the border. At one point they stopped a transport truck full of buffaloes – this nearly led to their arrest by the Nepalese police who stopped them repeatedly throughout the rest of the day. They wrote sad descriptions of animals being led along to the sacrifice. As they made their way towards the temple, they encountered a horrendous scene of hundreds of thousands of people camped out in open fields and then, in the days following, the mass killings of animals near the temple.

They and the many other volunteers rescued many animals. Sadly, some animals did get through and thousands of animals were slaughtered – however, the total was at least 70% fewer animals than the half a million slaughtered in 2009.

In the end, the festival itself was a failure, so much so that the Chinese company who had contracted to buy the remains of the poor slaughtered animals canceled their contract – there were just not enough animals available. The future was already looking bleak for the next Gadhimai festival in 2019.

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Inside the temple, for several hours, as multitudes of people approached the head priest, Mangal Chaudry, to seek his blessings, Dr. Nanditha Krishna, who had earlier made his acquaintance at Jaipur, had been invited to sit beside him. Dr. Nanditha Krishna has an unmatched gift for communicating about innocent animals – in a way that is both non-judgmental and unflinchingly direct – a clear voice of truth. In numerous situations behind the scenes, without fanfare, her words, whether to government leaders or to rural village women have helped to turn the tide on one animal issue after another. There is no doubt that they had an effect in this case.

Manoj Gautam, President and Founder of AWNN, in Nepal, also spoke at length with the head priest and held a number of meetings with the temple committee.

The conditions around the festival were entirely horrible for all those who traveled there to help the animals – the brutality and hatred, the filth and dirt, the smells, the sights, the sounds, all were a nightmare – from the travel on dangerous, rugged roads to the atmosphere of cruelty and the immense suffering of the animals. All those who went to help are heroes, and many thanks are due also to all those who supported them in India, in Nepal, and around the world.

In the end, the bloodsport that was the Gadhimai sacrifice could not stand up to the combined force of those working on behalf of the animals, and, at last, the temple sacrifice was revealed to all as what it was – a horror, a disaster, and finally also an economic failure.

With the announcement, on July 28, 2015, by Motilal Prasad Gadhimai Temple Trust Secretary and Ram Chandra Shah, Trust Chairman, the Gadhimai animal sacrifice finally came to an end.

Because one could not forget the suffering of so many animals, the ending of the sacrifice was not a joyful victory, but it was a decisive one.

In the words of Dr. Chinny Krishna, Chairman Emeritus of Blue Cross of India, “A tipping point had been reached, with the negative world-wide publicity of the senseless killing, the lower than expected numbers of those killed, and the Supreme Court’s rulings which would have ensured even smaller numbers of animals in 2019.”

An entrenched, blood-thirsty spectacle, which it seemed might never end, had been stopped by the will, the courage, and the dedication of the many who set aside their own wellbeing and comfort, and who never gave up in their fight to save hundreds of thousands, and over the years what would have become millions, of innocent animals.

© Sharon St Joan, 2015

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Second photo: © Erinpackardphotography / Dreamstime.com

Third photo: © Aleksandr Noskov  / Dreamstime.com

Ending the sacrifice at Gadhimai, part one



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By Sharon St Joan


Nearly 300 years ago, Bhagwan Chowdhary, a Nepalese man who’d been thrown into prison, prayed to the goddess Gadhimai for help, promising to sacrifice animals to her if she would get him out of jail. He was freed and, in return, he sacrificed five animals to the goddess, and he founded the temple dedicated to her. Today, in the twenty-first century, his great-great-great grandson serves as the head priest. Over the years the animal sacrifices grew and grew until the Gadhimai Temple became known as the world’s most ghastly scene of bloodshed.


On July 28, 2015, at a New Delhi press conference organized by the Animal Welfare Network Nepal, Humane Society International, and People for Animals, the temple authorities of Gadhimai Temple made the announcement that the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of animals, held every five years, would be permanently canceled. The world’s largest animal sacrifice had finally come to an end.


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Although billions of animals are killed worldwide every year, and no words can do justice to their suffering, the five-year sacrifice at Gadhimai was particularly horrifying. It was visible, taking place outside in full view. In 2009, around 500,000 animals were killed out in the open by men with machetes, resulting in a grotesque scene of unimaginable gore and bloodshed.


That this sacrifice, which drew hundreds of thousands of devotees, could be canceled had seemed impossible – despite all the determined efforts of animal advocates. This tremendous victory will save millions of animals in the future from a horrible death.



In a statement at the press conference, Shri Ram Chandra Shah, the Temple Trust Chairman said, “For every life taken, our heart is heavy…the time has come to replace killing and violence with peaceful worship and celebration.”


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With the support of Humane Society International (HSI), Animal Welfare Network Nepal (AWWN) had for some time been meeting with the temple committee, to work towards ending the sacrifices. The temple committee thanked these groups for showing them a path forward.


Gauri Maulekhi, HSI – India consultant and Trustee, People for Animals, remarked on the need for continuing to educate the public, saying, “HSI -India will now spend the next three and a half years till the next Gadhimai educating devotees in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal on the temple trust’s decision not to sacrifice animals.”


The Gadhimai Temple Committee has also decided not to sacrifice any animals during the upcoming harvest festival. Instead, they are placing any animals that arrive into a shelter where they’ll be cared for and turned over to animal groups to be rehomed.



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In India, which has a long tradition, over thousands of years, of kindness and reverence towards animals, animal sacrifice is illegal. Occasional incidents of animal sacrifice do still occur in rural villages, never performed by Brahman priests, but only by individual farmers or by local village priests. Animal sacrifice is not part of Hinduism and is denounced by all Indian Hindu authorities.


However the situation in Nepal is different. Animal sacrifice is widespread. The temple in Nepal that has never practiced animal sacrifice is the Pashupathi Nath Temple founded by the Indian Hindu saint, Adi Sankara, in the seventh century AD. AWWN and many other Nepalese opponents of animal sacrifice have worked for many years to end this gruesome practice.


Awareness of the horrors of Gadhimai and fierce opposition from animal groups has grown worldwide in recent years. A great many individuals and organizations played a part in this victory for animals. Swami Agniyesh, a popular social and animal activist, urged his followers to boycott the festival and held a hunger strike at the Gadhimai Temple.


Back in 1999, Mr. T. Shantilal Jain, then Treasurer of Blue Cross of India, raised the issue of the Gadhimai sacrifice to the Board Members of Blue Cross, asking what might be done to stop it. Dr. Chinny Krishna and Dr. Nanditha Krishna traveled to Nepal, where a prominent businessman had promised to arrange a meeting with then King Birendra. They waited in Kathmandu for three days, however the meeting did not materialize, and they left.


The sacrifices in 2004 and 2009 went ahead. The numbers of animals and people involved only increased – until the numbers of animals sacrificed reached half a million in 2009. They included buffalos, chickens, pigeons, calves, goats, rats, and many others. In recent decades the numbers have exploded, with the majority of the animals coming across the border from India. Many of the animals were brought by small farmers who believed that sacrificing an animal would bring good fortune to their families. Other animals were paid for and transported in trucks.


In 2014, as the time for another five-year sacrifice neared, efforts to halt the bloodshed were stepped up. HSI India persuaded the Chief Priest at Gadhimai to attend the FIAPO (Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations) Conference held that year in Jaipur. While he was there many people spoke with him, asking him to cancel the slaughter, including Manoj Gautam, Founder of AWWN, Dr. Nanditha Krishna, Chair of HSI India, and Jayasimha Nuggehalli, Managing Director of HSI India. Mrs. Maneka Gandhi, India Government Minister and Founder of People for Animals, offered financial assistance to re-build the Gadhimai Temple if the sacrifice was halted. Mrs. Gandhi also generously paid the fares of animal activists who traveled by train to Nepal.


Continued in part two


© Sharon St Joan, 2015


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Second photo: © Lakhesis / Dreamstime.com


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Gadhimai and heroic efforts to stop it

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By Dr. Nanditha Krishna


The Gadhimai animal sacrifice is a deeply disturbing event, and this account contains disturbing descriptions of suffering animals and horrible surroundings.  The courageous actions and presence of the many people who went there to protest the sacrifice, as well as the efforts of the Supreme Court of India and Indian government agencies, were not able to stop the sacrifice, but have resulted in saving the lives of thousands of animals, and in laying the groundwork for hopefully preventing the next Gadhimai event from taking place. — The Editor


It is a hot dusty road to the temple of goddess Gadhimai in Bara district of Nepal. We slowly leave behind the few semblances of civilization as we crawl along a dirt track to an area of soul-wrenching poverty. Muzaffarpur in Bihar is the last civilized outpost as we drive from Patna to Roxhaul in India, across the border to Birgunj in Nepal and later to Gadhimai. Bihari villagers are dragging little male buffalo calves – the unwanted waste of the dairy industry – and goats, or carrying lambs in their arms, all to be sacrificed to Gadhimai. I spend a night at the RS Hotel in Roxhaul, where Dawn William and volunteers of the Blue Cross of India have been camping every night, while they fan out 100 kms east and west of Roxhaul from 4 am every day to stop the smuggling of animals across the border.


Next day I shift to Hotel Makalu at Birgang, where an ad film glorifying Gadhimai and the slaughter is broadcast round-the-clock. It shows people saying how happy they are to perform the sacrifice. Apparently the goddess appeared in the dream of the (present) priest’s ancestor and freed him from his captivity in jail. In return, she asked for a “nar-bali” or sacrifice of 5 men. He sacrificed 5 animals instead: rat, pigeon, chicken, goat and buffalo, and she was appeased. Now he kills one of each and cuts his finger slightly, to give human blood, and leaves the rest to his minions because “his arm aches after all the cutting”!


As we approach Gadhimai, the atmosphere changes. There is a mela going on, a one month celebration before the ritual slaughter. Along with the giant wheel and motor car stunts, we go back 500 years: a child with a monster’s head and deformed body exhibited for viewing and collecting money; snake charmers; scorpions for sale (as an aphrodisiac). The path is strewn with writhing lepers. I have not seen such sights since I was a child. There are huge baskets stuffed with pigeons for sale. Little male calves and goats, barely able to walk, are dragged to their death. One little calf, who has not yet been weaned, suckles the tassels of my companion’s shawl till he is roughly pulled away. The place is filthy: there are no toilets and the air stinks of faeces. In between, there are shops selling cheap Chinese goods – artificial jewellery, beads and plastic toys. A fat woman is selling reluctant goats and sheep, pulling them away from their bleating lambs. One has to be a monster to remain unaffected.


There is a large arena, like a stadium, where the buffalo calves are thrown in to await their death. There is a stack of hay and some water, but these animals are still suckling babes. They cannot eat the hay. But somebody’s conscience is assuaged: the animals are fed!


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The temple is crowded, but I sit beside the priest whom I met in Jaipur when I tried – in vain – to convince him to stop the sacrifice. “Look at the crowds”, he says “will they let me stop?” He is right. They are all excited and revved up at the thought of the slaughter to come. It is a malaise that runs deep. The crowd is already about 200,000 strong, and the highlight – the slaughter – has not yet begun. The visitors are Nepalese and Biharis – no difference between the two who speak Bhojpuri and share the sacrifice.


The Gadhimai sacrifice is big business. The contractor has paid Rs. 1.6 crores to the committee, of which the priest receives Rs. 16 lakhs. The rest is divided between the trustees, except the secretary who is the cousin of the contractor and gets a large share. In return the contractor gets everything: the hundi offerings (of money, gold, etc.), buffalo skins, flesh (to be sold as meat), etc. To slaughter one buffalo costs Rs. 1600, which is paid to the contractor. There are cold storage trucks waiting to transport the flesh to China for food. The skins come to China and India for footwear and handbags. There are no takers for the goat flesh, which the villagers take home to cook and eat.


Some of the visitors look into the arena. “Too few animals,” says one. “Is saal achchaa nahin hai”! Unfortunately, Nepalese Hinduism is full of animal sacrifice and the people are desensitized. After a fruitless discussion with the priest, I prepare to leave. The only hope is that he agrees to work with us after the sacrifice to see what can be done 5 years hence. He is angry with Bharat sarkar for stopping the entry of animals into Nepal (as per the ruling of the Supreme Court of India). But he knows the world is angry. This is not Hinduism, which taught the world ahimsa paramo dharmah.


On Thursday is the “kshama pooja”, when they ask for forgiveness from the animals slaughtered and to be slaughtered. So they know it is wrong. About 4,ooo buffaloes and buffalo calves and innumerable goats and pigeons were slaughtered on Friday. Today’s count is about 3,500. The temple committee had assured at least 10,000 buffaloes to the contractor, to whom they have had to apologize for the low count. The Dalit committee, which had earlier boycotted the consumption of meat, have not allowed the contractors to remove the carcasses, so they are rotting in the arena. The committee has lost face. While the activists assembled at Gadhimai could not stop the slaughter, they have been able to reduce the numbers, thanks to a pro-active Indian Supreme Court and Home Ministry. And the lower number of animals will result in a financial loss for the contractor. So there is hope for the future.


Photos: Courtesy of Blue Cross of India


To visit the website of Humane Society International – India, click here.


To visit the website of Blue Cross of India, click here.