Sustained campaigning by animal rights activists leads the temple to scrap the 300-year-old practice
In a decision that comes as a major victory for animal rights activists, Nepal’s Gadhimai Temple Trust announced on July 28 that all animal sacrifice shall henceforth be banned at the Gadhimai festival.
The festival, held every five years, had gained infamy over the recent past for being the world’s largest animal sacrifice event. The temple trust announced that the 300-year-old practice of sacrificing animals shall be discontinued from the next Gadhimai festival in 2019. The trust also urged devotees attending the festival to not bring animals.
In a statement, the temple trust chairperson, Ram Chandra Shah, said, "For generations, pilgrims have sacrificed animals to the Goddess Gadhimai, in the hope of a better life. For every life taken, our heart is heavy. The time has come to transform an old tradition. The time has come to replace killing and violence with peaceful worship and celebration."
The decision to ban animal sacrifice has come after years of negotiation and campaigning by animal rights groups, most notably the Animal Welfare Network Nepal (AWNN) and the Humane Society International-India (HSI).
“We are overjoyed at the announcement made by the temple trust. Last year, just before the festival, we tried to negotiate with the temple authorities to ban the practice and I am happy that it has finally happened,” said Alokparna Sengupta, the deputy director at HSI.
The Gadhimai festival drew wide attention in 2009 when over 500,000 cows, goats, chicken and other animals were estimated to have been sacrificed. When activists called for a ban on the event, the number of animal sacrifices reportedly halved in 2014.
According to Sengupta, the Indian Supreme Court, in an interim order last year, had prohibited the transportation of animals from India to Nepal before the 2014 festival, bringing the numbers down drastically. Recently, it directed states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Uttrakhand to set up mechanisms to prevent the transportation of animals to Gadhimai and to increase awareness against animal sacrifice.
The fight is, however, not over, according to Sengupta. "The decision to ban the practice is only as effective as its implementation so we still have a challenge on our hands." She added that HSI plans to launch awareness campaigns against animal sacrifice at villages in Indian states bordering Nepal.
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