Indians throng Nepal's Gadhimai fair for animal sacrificeVision from Associated Press
Sudeshna Sarkar, TNN 24 November 2009, 06:05pm IST
KATHMANDU: Thousands of Indians from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other states bordering Nepal swarmed to the Himalayan republic’s southern plains Tuesday to attend a notorious Hindu fair there and sacrifice animals and birds in the hope their wishes would be fulfilled.
While a debate began to grow in Nepal about the Gadhimai Fair in Bara district and the wanton cruelty it inflicted on animals, the festival drew its strength from zealous Indian attendees who have been flocking to it every five years in a bid to circumvent the ban imposed on animal sacrifices in their own states.
The name on everyone’s lips on Tuesday, when the slaughter of buffaloes started, was that of Raman Thakur, a farmer from Sitamarhi in Bihar who sacrificed 105 buffaloes to show his gratitude. The goddess, Thakur said, had answered the prayer he had made five years ago by granting him a son.
Men, women and children poured in from Bihar, most of them carrying kid goats and roosters, many of which had been smuggled across the porous Indo-Nepal border, bypassing the few Nepali quarantine posts. “My son Vishnu has been ill for years and can’t walk,” said Kalaiya Devi, pointing to a severely malnourished child in her arms whose legs looked like matchsticks. “I am going to sacrifice a pigeon now and come back with a buffalo at the next fair if the goddess gives him the strength to walk.”
People who believe in witchcraft and supernatural powers and were hardened to suffering due to the suffering they themselves have undergone for generations are the people who keep the Gadhimai Fair in Nepal alive while the locals regard it more as an occasion to do brisk business when their hotels and restaurants remain full.
Ram Mahato, 37, who also came from Sitamarhi, planned to watch the execution of the animals, visit the circus and drink his fill of local liquor that has also been doing brisk sale underground despite an official ban on it. He had not heard of Maneka Gandhi, let alone her plea to the Nepal government to ban the quinquennial slaughter at Gadhimai. Neither had he heard that six people, including one from Motihari, had died after consuming adulterated hooch.
“Gandhi?” he asked, scratching his head. “Is she related to Indira Gandhi? But then, they have everything, unlike us. They can afford not to seek the blessings of the goddess.”
The local Maoist MP, Shiv Chandra Kushwaha, said he had decided to skip attending parliament – which his party had agreed to allow to convene for three critical days to pass the budget – to attend the fair since it was for a bigger cause. “About 75 percent of the people who come to fair to offer sacrifices are Indians. We can’t stop them because it is a religious sentiment. Why blame us? It is not us who are making the sacrifices.”
The Maoist MP estimates about 15,000 buffaloes will be killed Tuesday. On Wednesday, he says, the number of slaughtered goats, roosters and pigeons will run into hundreds of thousands. The temple authorities have built a new slaughter house at a cost of nearly NRS 5 million while a huge pit has been dug to bury the heads of the butchered animals. The animal skins are being bought by tannery owners in India and Nepal.
Nepal’s government refused to ban the massacre despite warnings by animal lovers and livestock experts that it could cause an outbreak of animal-borne diseases like goat plague, swine flu and bird flu.
Though celebrities like Maneka Gandhi and yesteryear’s sex symbol French actress Brigitte Bardot raised their voices against the killings, the root of the problem perhaps is that these voices are not as potent in the drinking water and electricity-less villages of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh as the voices of imagined gods and demons.
The reporting from an Indian newspaper is even more remarkable, as it reports that attendees are mostly Indians from neighbouring states but more importantly, indicates that such ritual sacrifice is itself banned in those neighbouring Indian states.
Just because a cultural practice is old, it does not make it right. There is something macabre about turning mass killing into a spectacle, no matter how old the tradition.
Meanwhile, the President of the United States of America has yet again pardoned another turkey (or two) from being slaughtered for Thanksgiving, even if the 'nominated' turkeys were named, pampered and raised to perform for the televised spectacle. Surely the whole ritual is rather pointless when another nameless turkey is going to be killed and eaten anyway.