Thousands of animals are being smuggled to Nepal from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar for the Gadhimai festival which involves the ritual beheading of tens of thousands of buffaloes, goats and other animals including pigeon.
The mass sacrifice in the Bara district of Nepal, which takes place every five years, is set to occur on December 3rd and 4th.
The voluntary organisations and civil societies who are working to stop bloodshed during this ritual claim that more than 2,000 buffaloes have already been taken across the border, mostly under cover of darkness, to the sacrifice arena. Some buffalo calves are reported to have died in the arena from suspected diarrhoea and exposure to the cold, and others have fallen sick.
The animal movements from India are in violation of the order Supreme Court of India and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 along with the Export-Import Policy of India and the Foreign Trade Act (Development and Regulation) Act 1992 which categorically places live cattle and buffalo in the restricted export category, requiring a license to legally export them.
This rule is being openly flouted as the majority of animals are transported illegally across the border without an export license.
In view of this animal smuggling security along the Indo-Nepal border has been tightened with jawans of Seema Suraksha Bal monitoring the movement of animals across the border. Teams from Humane Society International, Federation of Animal Welfare Nepal, and People for Animals have deployed on either side of the border to assist India’s armed police, the Sashastra Seema Bal, who are seizing animals illegally brought across for sacrifice.
Indian families starting their journey on foot, as well as Nepali devotees who purchased animals in India for sacrifice, have been stopped by the SSB and had their animals removed, mainly goats and pigeons.
Managing Director, Humane Society International (India) Alokparna Sengupta told this report on the telephone that smuggling of animals start from Indian side starts from September. “People know that checking during this time along the border would be intense so that start shifting the animals sometimes in September. As the Indi-Nepal border is porous the movement of animals is easy,” she said.
From the Indian side, there are two sources where these animals are being smuggled. From the Bihar side, it is Raxaul while from Uttar Pradesh side it is the Sonali border in Gorakhpur. It is not clear where the farmers who are facing the menace of stray cattle `willingly’ pass on these animals to the temple for the sacrifice.
Reports say in 2009 over 5 lakh animals were slaughtered. Last time in 2014 the number came down still over 35,000 animals were sacrificed.
“The harrowing scenes from the last Gadhimai still haunt me, with decapitated buffalo as far as the eye could see. I dread going back there, but we must bear witness and do all we can for these helpless animals,” Sengupta said
“Virtually everyone being stopped by the SSB is aware that the Gadhimai Temple declared a ban on animal sacrifice, but they are bringing animals anyway. Our team has been talking to devotees. It is clear that the habit of providing a blood sacrifice for the goddess has persisted for so long that it is very hard to change people’s mind set,” she said.
Tanuja Basnet, director of Humane Society International (Nepal), said that in Nepal there is growing opposition to this blood festival. Animal welfare groups and religious groups, including some Dalit groups, are opposing the killing and promoting compassion to animals instead.
The origins of Gadhimai date back around 265 years, when the founder of the Gadhimai Temple, Bhagwan Chowdhary, had a dream that the goddess Gadhimai wanted blood in return for freeing him from prison, protecting him from evil and promising prosperity and power. The goddess asked for a human sacrifice, but Chowdhary successfully offered an animal instead, and this has been repeated every five years since.