Thursday, November 5, 2009

Nepal government under mounting pressure

Kathmandu, November 1 2009 - The Nepalese government is under mounting pressure from Nepalese and international campaigners, including India's noted activist Maneka Gandhi, to stop the centuries old animal sacrifice at Gadhimai Festival in Bara district.Today during a press meet in the Reporters' Club animal welfare campaigners, religious scholars and government representatives discussed the 'world's largest animal sacrifice'.

Drector General Dr Prabhakar Pathap of the Department of Livestock Services said he does not have the mandate to address the issue of Gadhimai but frankly admitted that the festival is a major cause for health concerns.

Dr Pathak said there is only one quarantaine office in Bara district but not a single animal traveling to Gadhimai passes through this office. 'The border is porous and we would need major resources to make sure no sick animal ends up in Bara.'

Animal welfare campaigners point out that Gadhimai might actually cause human deaths due to a complete lack of effective monitoring.

Nepalese campaigners have joined hands in the Stop Animal Sacrifice Alliance and Animal Welfare Network Nepal. In a petition signed by over 2500 people the network calls for an end to the ‘extreme cruelty’ taking place at ‘the world’s largest animal sacrifice’. The petition is addressed to the President, Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, as well as the Minister of Agriculture.

The network says at Gadhimai ‘innocent creatures are killed en masse in an unorganized und unregulated manner. The buffaloes are in fact killed by drunken devotees who enter the temple area with khukuri knives to cut off the heads of frightened animals.’According to the network, ‘[n]o one can adequately explain why these practices are carried out year after year – except to say they are ‘traditional’. This however is not a valuable argument to commence these practices; Nepal, realizing the adverse effects, has abolished a number of ‘traditions’ in the past, including human sacrifice and widow burning. ‘

The campaigners formed an international coalition including Indian groups such as People for Animals, Beauty without Cruelty and Peta India. International groups such as World Society for the Protection of Animals, Animal Aid Abroad, Brigitte Bardot Foundation, etc have joined the campaign by writing letters to the Nepal government and ambassadors in Europe, Australia and the USA.

Indian concerns
One reason for the event's huge popularity is its proximity to India, where some states have now banned sacrificial slaughter. The campaigners question if ‘the New Nepal want to cater to superstitious devotees who cross the border to do what is illegal in their own country?’

Animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi has mailed a letter to Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal asking for his intervention. According to Gandhi, ‘[m]any people in Nepal and the subcontinent are concerned about this sacrifice. Your government has taken so many humane steps – banning the export of monkeys for instance. Since you have introduced the Meat Act which makes the humane killing of animals mandatory, these acts during the Gadhimai festival would be illegal.’

The Gadhimai Jatra festival takes place every five years. According to the organizers some 700.000 people, more than half of them from bordering Indian states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, visited the Gadhimai Temple in 2004. This year the organizers plan to sacrifice 500.000 animals including 20,000 buffaloes. The festival starts on Mangsir 9, November 24. According to the rules of the festival all animals must be killed in the first two days. Religious leader Palden Dorje a.k.a Ram Bahadur Bomjan plans to protest the sacrifice by making an appearance and bless the devotees ahead of the festival.

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