June 23, 2021

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writing, mostly, on contemporary issues of human rights, politics & social justice

Reported animal sacrifice ban at Gadhimai was ‘forced’

I reported this with Ritesh Tripathi for Republica.

KATHMANDU/BIRGUNJ, Aug 6: The Gadhimai Trust was forced by an NGO to make the reported announcement last week about animal sacrifice ban at Gadhimai Temple, according to trust officials. The announcement was made in New Delhi.

In order to show results before donors, the NGO Animal Welfare Network Nepal (AWNN) made four members of the Trust, including temple priest Mangal Chaudhary, issue the statement declaring that the trust has banned animal sacrifice during the Gadhimai festival, according to Ram Chandra Sah, chairperson of the trust.

Sah alleged that Manoj Gautam, chairperson of AWNN, had been trying for half a decade to get the announcement document signed by the trust. The NGO finally got the paper signed in New Delhi on July 28, as per its plans.

Sah explained that AWNN’s Gautam had reached Bariyarpur VDC in Bara district on July 25 to receive the trust members, whom he had requested one day before to get ready for the trip. Sah said the NGO had communicated with the trust that it was time for the members to travel to India and tap funds for the development of Gadhimai Temple.

“Since I was not free, trust secretary Motilal Kushwaha and Chaudhary the priest along with two other members went to Delhi by an AWNN vehicle,” Sah further said. “After two days, I was surprised to learn about media reports claiming an animal sacrifice ban during the Gadhimai religious fair.”

Last Tuesday, the very day of the announcement, Gadhimai Trust dismissed the claim the NGO made, through Republica, on the sacrifice ban.

At the time, the trust officials along with two members of AWNN and two Indians were in Bihar on the way back from Delhi, according to Kushwaha. He quoted the NGO members as scolding the trust officials, pointing out that the chairperson had foiled progress.

Kushwaha said that he had signed a stamped paper (such as is used in India), with something written in English, after the NGO members threatened to hand him over to Indian police. He believed that it was about an animal sacrifice ban at Gadhimai.

According to him, the paper was signed in Patna after the NGO members learnt about the chairperson’s statement dismissing reports of the ban.

He clarified that the Trust had never asked him to issue a statement about animal sacrifice ban. He also admitted that he had made the statement conditional on the withdrawal of a first information report (FIR) supposedly filed against him.

In 2014, animal rights campaigners had filed an FIR with Indian police regarding the Gadhimai Trust.

However, AWNN president Gautam refuted all allegations made against him.

“The program [scheduled lin Delhi] was not held as important personalities who were to attend did not show up as they had to be present at the last rites of APJ Abadul Kalam,” he said. The program had been organised by Humane International Society, an Indian NGO, along with AWNN as local partner.

As per Chaudhary, Gautam had earlier informed the trust that Maneka Gandhi, Swami Agnive, Ramdev and film star Akshyay Kumar would be among those attending the program.

“After announcement of the ban, Gautam asked to speak,” Chaudhari said. “I clarified that we had never urged people to sacrifice animals. I’ve even suggested some alternatives such as offering coconuts and ash-gourd during the festival.”

He further explained that it was hard to persuade people who strongly believe in animal sacrifice to refrain from making such offerings.

Meanwhile, Gautam insisted that the members of the trust had earlier agreed to declare the ban. But he didn’t organize any program in Nepal for the declaration as Nepali media did not give sufficient space for such issues.

According to Gautam, AWNN has been running its campaign for the last six years following the 2009 Gadhimai festival. For this purpose, AWNN has received Rs 4 million from different international organizations, including People for Animals, One Voice, Humane Society International (HIS), Jane Goodall Institute Australia, Compassion in World Farming, Animals Australia, Albert Schweizer Foundation and Animal People.

As per AWNN officials, the NGO has targetted locals from the Gadhimai Temple area through the local NGOs Moonlight Yuwa Club and Children and Women Service Center.

Over 12,000 people from the target area had attended an AWNN’s program. At the program, the members tried to raise awareness against the sacrifice of animals at Gadhimai.

“Altogether 60-70 percent of the participants were persuaded not to continue the tradition of animal sacrifice. Even temple priest Chaudhary had stated many times that the brutality would not be continued,” Gautam said.

However, trust chairperson Sah told Republica that the ANWN has not carried out any activities in the areas.

“The NGO has never maintained transparency about the funds raised in the name of Gadhimai for its campaign, ” said Sah.

Trust stance does not mean continuing animal sacrifice

Gadhimai Trust has clarified that the trust and the NGO alone cannot stop people continuing with the centuries-old tradition of sacrificing animals at the Gadhimai festival. Trust chairperson Sah told Republica that devotees from India attend the festival and offer animal sacrifice. Even Indian security officials bring animals for sacrifice to the deity.

Sah reiterated that the trust never urges devotees to sacrifice animals, but only manages the event. “We never ask devotees to carry out animal sacrifice,” he added.

Gadhimai festival is said to be the world’s biggest animal sacrifice event and is held every five years at Bariyarpur VDC in Bara district. Thousands of animals including buffaloes, goats and chickens are sacrificed as offerings by devotees from across Nepal and India to please the deity, Gadhimai.