The Gadhimai Mela (fair) is held every five years in Bariyarpur, Bara District, South Nepal. It has been reported that 2 to 5 lakh animals, mainly young buffaloes, and some goats, ducks, roosters, pigeons, and rats are sacrificed. Slaughterers, equipped with swords are employed to slay the animals. At least seventy per cent of the visitors to the fair are those living in the Terai regions of Bihar, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal.
That’s the reason why in 2009 Beauty Without Cruelty approached the Union Minister of Home Affairs to stop movement of animals across the Indo-Nepali border. BWC had suggested that the number of border police officials should be increased before and during the Mela, and that they should monitor the movement of people and animals. Thus the additional 4,500 Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) officials deployed were alert at outposts and an extra vigil was maintained. Transportation of animals and birds from India to Nepal was considerably stopped and stern action taken against offenders.
According to a senior SSB officer the number of animals sacrificed from India in 2009 reduced by 75%. But in view of only a few hundred being seized and may be as many apprehended from crossing over, BWC felt it was an over-estimation, and therefore thought our efforts with the help extended by the Government of India had curtailed and saved 50% of the animals scheduled to be beheaded.
Beauty Without Cruelty and Animal Welfare Network Nepal worked together and both approached top officials in the Nepali Government, however, they did not budge from their plans for mass slaughter. People were made to believe that animals were to be sacrificed to appease Goddess Gadhimai.
Prior to its commencement, the organizing committee declared that at least 5 lakh creatures would be sacrificed, and despite international protests and appeals they didn’t even try to reduce the killing. On the contrary, they provided Rs 45 lakh funds for the fair which turned out to be a money-spinner for Nepal’s priests, organizers, suppliers and contractors. Moreover, the organizers planned to raise Rs 14 crore – with the local village development committees contributing 1,000 animals each so that they could have a slice of the profit.
Although buffalo meat is given away free, the organisers earn by selling hides to contractors. The Indian meat and leather industries are said to be hand-in-glove with the fair organisers.
The Wrath of Gadhimai written by a foreigner who attended the festival in 2009 and can be viewed here. http://www.travelyourassoff.com/2011/12/wrath-of-gadhimai-gadhimai-festival.html
On the main day at mid-night people gather round a small idol of Goddess Gadhimai placed below a pipal tree while the chief priest begins chanting and anoints the idol with kumkum and flowers. Since this is not enough to awaken the Goddess, a person offers blood from five parts of his body which is said to quicken the process of awakening the Goddess.
For the rest of the night every one is tense, frequently looking into a big earthen jar, awaiting a light to spontaneously appear in it because it indicates that the Goddess has been awakened. Possessed by the spirit of the Goddess, a priestess then begins to shudder and shake.
Men pick up their swords and walk towards the adjoining field where literally thousands of innocent animals, particularly young male buffalo calves, are imprisoned. 48 hours of gruesome and bloody beheading of animals, said to be the largest single animal sacrifice on earth, follows.
This bloodthirsty event is said to date back 260 years or so (not more) when Bhagwan Chaudhary, a
feudal landlord who was imprisoned in Makwanpur Fort, dreamt that his problems would be solved if he made a blood sacrifice to Goddess Gadhimai. Upon his release, he approached a village healer whose descendant, Dukha Kachadiya started the ritual with drops of his own blood from five parts of his body. Apparently a light appeared in an earthen jar. But, did the mass animal sacrifice as is now carried out every five years, follow?
Interestingly, in comparison to animal sacrifices very many more coconuts are broken open on a big stone originally installed for this purpose at the Gadhimai temple.
Soon after the 2009 Gadhimai Mela got over, animal activists began creating awareness about the next one scheduled to be held on 28 & 29 November 2014.
BWC vowed to do all it can to lessen the carnage. We first requested the Government of India to bring up the subject with the Nepal Government. We also wrote to them (like we had in 2009) about stopping the movement of animals across the porous border. Before which we had sent RTI applications to the Home Affairs and External Affairs Ministeries asking for the numbers of animals, people and vehicles that crossed from India into Nepal between 21 and 27 November 2009. One of the replies dated 11 March 2014 stated “the Bureau of Immigration is exempted from providing any information/details on the subject.” Whereas, the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Central Public Information Officer wrote on 12 March 2014 “data regarding number of people, animals, etc. crossing Indo-Nepal border is not compiled by Department of Border Management, and accordingly is not available.”
Meanwhile, PFA filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court stating that under India’s Import Export Policy and the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992 live cattle and buffaloes were not allowed to be exported, but for the Gadhimai festival in November 2014, lakhs of animals would be illegally transported into Nepal since 70% of the animals sacrificed came from India.
The Court immediately issued a notice to the Union of India and the four border states of Bihar, UP, Uttarakhand and West Bengal. At the next hearing the Bench passed an interim order directing the Union of India to check the illegal movement of animals into Nepal. In compliance with the Supreme Court order, the Sashastra Seema Bal issued directions to ensure that movement of cattle for sacrifice during the Gadhimai Mela is halted.
This was followed by Uttarakhand issuing an order giving instructions to the state’s Police of the areas bordering Nepal, to strictly implement the ban on illegal transportation of animals for sacrifice at the Gadhimai Festival.
As a result of border checks in October-November, Bihar reported 47 arrests and 271 animals seized. Police were deployed round-the-clock at 9 check-posts in East Champaran district to stop animals and birds from crossing in to Nepal, as a result of which 622 buffaloes, goats and other animals in 9 trucks were seized and 37 smugglers were arrested.
Not only have animal activists from India, but also from Nepal, been continuously creating awareness and working in different ways, including interception of animals from crossing over, so that the carnage would not take place, or at least lessen. A PIL was also filed in the Supreme Court of Nepal calling for a national ban on animal sacrifice.
In January 2014, BWC began appealing for contacts likely to help eliminate or at least lessen the number of animals sacrificed at the year-end Gadhimai mela in Nepal.
Our meticulous investigations about the Gadhimai animal sacrifice threw up some significant information. It was only after 28 & 29 November 2014 that we got to know we were not the only ones to have realised the 2009 figures had been highly exaggerated. The number of animals planned to be sacrificed at the forthcoming mela had kept rising – began at 25,000, jumped to 200,000 and then 500,000.
The sacrificial area measures 2 Nepalese bighas – 13,546 square metres or 3.35 acres. One buffalo calf thrown on its side would cover a minimum 1.30 square metres. Adult buffaloes would take up more space. Many photographs show vacant spaces between carcasses. The carcasses are not piled one upon another and none are taken out of the field when the killing is going on. Therefore, no more than 10,000 buffaloes can ever be sacrificed within the walled area.
We had not challenged or refuted claims made by others because we felt it could have harmed the cause and even a few hundred animals might not be saved. Now that the 2014 sacrifice is over, we are disclosing our findings.
The Gadhimai temple of Bariyarpur in Bara district in Nepal is situated 26 kilometres from the border town of Raxaul in Bihar. Almost every one who attends the Gadhimai mela is from India. It is not essential for those who visit to sacrifice an animal – and most of them don’t. Although bananas, white pumpkins, and sugarcane sticks are not “sacrificed” there, devotees do break coconuts as an offering to the deity.
Some Nepalese did not even know where or what Gadhimai was, leave alone it being synonymous with buffalo sacrifices! (The Embassy in Kolkata said it could be the way in which they and we pronounce Gadhimai.) Any way, there is no doubt the place is insignificant except when it comes to life – to kill – every few years. Not necessarily every five years so the event may not take place in 2019 as expected. However, the Gadhimai mela is organised on the saptami and asthami tithi (seventh and eighth day) of the Margshish month of the Hindu lunar calendar.
To some extent it was a relief to know for sure that the number of animals sacrificed did not run into lakhs although sacrifice of smaller animals like goats, chickens and pigeons is said to be permitted within a radius of 3 or 5 kilometres of the temple. The number of devotees who visit Gadhimai for the mela are not as many either. Only a couple of thousand animals are beheaded at the site, but this, in itself is no doubt, mass slaughter. Repeated close scrutiny of scores of photographs and videos revealed that almost all the buffaloes were male calves – obviously unwanted animals from the dairies of the region.
Knowing the number of animals killed is lesser than thought does not make it any the less barbaric, cruel, or gruesome. Every animal is an individual and each life is precious and counts. This is evident from how we all react on viewing the internet videos of the buffaloes being sacrificed.
BWC came to this factual conclusion after making extensive inquiries over a year. We located and spoke to a great number of people like auto rickshaw drivers of Bihar (not one of them had sacrificed an animal there), travel operators of Gorakhpur, journalists and many others who had themselves visited Gadhimai mela.
BWC now realises that it is just not feasible for “approximately 90,000 buffaloes” as stated in the letters written by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 25 September 2014 to the State Governments, to be bought, brought and beheaded by scores of slayers swinging khukuris, machetes and scimitars operating round the clock for a day or two.
Persistent inquiries revealed that the temple authorities take money from devotees for the animals promising to arrange for the sacrifice – in the open field away from the temple. A high wall has been erected around this slaughter-field and those who want to see what is going on need to scale the wall.
And guess what? Two days later there was no trace whatsoever of the massacre. The heads were buried whereas the rest of the carcasses’ flesh may, or may not have been distributed (meat spoils fast) and skin sold off.
For an animal to be sacrificed, a devotee may give Rs 1,000 or less, whereas another Rs 3,000, and yet another Rs 5,000. Thus the temple records show scores more than are actually sacrificed. People who wish to sacrifice may not even see the animal and they do not want the meat. Once they have paid they think their reverence to the Goddess is over.
Following the 2014 Supreme Court’s order (mentioned above) directing the Government of India and states such as Bihar to check the illegal movement of an estimated 90,000 animals into Nepal, not only did the SSB confiscate buffaloes and arrest people, but the animal activists who went to the area also helped to apprehend smugglers. Since hundreds of animals were again seized, the killing must have been lesser than in 2009.
To sum up, the number of buffaloes sacrificed at Gadhimai in 2009 never ran into more than a few thousands, and in 2014 the number was lesser. The number of animals saved from being sacrificed in November last, was again no more than a few hundred. So, about 50% buffaloes, goats and chickens from India that were scheduled to be killed must have been saved.
Nevertheless in July 2015, it was a victory for animal rights activists when under pressure of a Supreme Court of Nepal injunction won on 24 November 2014 by the Nepal Animal Welfare & Research Center, the Secretary of the Gadhimai Temple Trust declared “We have decided to completely stop the practice of animal sacrifice.”