Animal Sacrifice

One of the most tragic realities in society today is the existence of rituals involving the murder of animals in the name of religion. What ought to be a force guiding people away from inflicting any pain on other living creatures and making them sensitive, caring individuals respecting other life similar to theirs, is instead used today, as a justification for killing animals. Animal and bird sacrifices therefore continue to exist in India and this does not mean it happens only among the tribal folk.

Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Puducherry are the only governments with a law against the sacrifice of animals and birds. However, in 2002 a news item said that late Shri Vinod Chandra Pande, the then Bihar and Jharkhand Governor had directed the governments of the two states to ban the sacrifice of animals in temples and that such killing was punishable under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

Good news no doubt, but BWC has not been able to get animal sacrifices stopped under this Act in other states like Maharashtra. Although in 2008 a news item stated that in Washim District of Maharashtra members of the Banjara Dal non-violently protested against their community’s tradition of sacrificing goats and being bound by superstitions.

In 2002 the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Dr J Jayalalitha enforced the Tamil Nadu Animal & Bird Sacrifice Prohibition Act, 1950 calling it a cruel custom. This order banning sacrifice of animals and birds in temples came in the wake of the reported “sacrifice” of 500 buffaloes at a village temple in Tiruchi district and since the CM was particularly keen on stopping animal sacrifices during the Kodai festivals when scores of goats and fowl are killed in Tirunelveli and Tuticorin districts of the state. However, the repeal of the Act a year or so later was, we understand, aimed at wooing Dalits and other communities who sacrifice animals. Sadly, the CM chose to sacrifice animals and birds at the altar of political expediency.


Animal Sacrifices by Muslims, Hindus and Christians


The ritual slaying of a goat on the occasion of Bakri Idd is a socially imposed custom on every Muslim family. Some pay lakhs of rupees for particular goats like the chand ka bakra ones which have white shaped markings resembling the moon. In addition to specially fed and fattened goats, camels also get sacrificed. However after 2007, in accordance to an order passed by the district administration, kurbani (sacrifice) is not allowed in Musahra, Uttar Pradesh’s Sant Kabir Nagar. Here all the village goats are seized and returned three days after Idd. But, for Muslim marriage celebrations, many goats get sacrificed in this village. Not far from there, the year-round ban on meat is lifted at Ayodhya and animal sacrifice is allowed on Idd.

In 2015 the High Court in Mumbai declined to grant a three-day stay on the beef ban for Bakri Idd saying a “drastic interim relief” cannot be granted because the amended law (20 March 2015) contains no provision allowing for such temporary relaxations.


In 2018 the Deonar slaughter house, Mumbai, began issuing licences online to kill animals for Bakri Id. To prove how ridiculous the system was a couple of advocates obtained licences in fictitious names with place of slaughter as the Mumbai High Court. A case was registered by an NGO against the faulty system and permission being given for killing animals outside a slaughterhouse.


Another organisation asked people to cut cakes with goat caricatures to celebrate Bakri Id but unfortunately it triggered a row in UP.


Some NGOs in Gujarat have been purchasing goats and keeping in shelters so that they are not sacrificed on Bakri Id. However, we need to think (more so if bought a couple of months before the sacrifice is due to occur) whether this is the right thing to do because money given to the breeder will obviously be used to expand his trade which means that more animals will be specially bred to be killed.


It is a common practice for animals like sheep, goats and male buffaloes to be beheaded ritually on auspicious days in and around temples all over India. The temples of the goddess Kali are the slaughter grounds for, again, goats.

The Christian community of coastal India have similar customs to mark their religious occasions.

Whether prescribed by their respective scriptures or not, these customs are a reality that their religions’ followers have to own up and claim responsibility for, whether they be tribal or educated town folk. At the same time, just to appease the electorate, the authorities should not look the other way while animals are unlawfully killed for religious purposes.

BWC strongly objects to any killing of animals in the name of any religion. It feels that we exhibit hypocrisy by demanding human rights for ourselves but denying the elementary right of life to our fellow creatures. Taking the life of a defenceless innocent animal and calling it a sacrifice is surely a demonstration of much undeveloped moral values. Do people really think that the kind and compassionate God is pleased when we take life in His name and feast upon the flesh of the killed animal? (If hundreds of animals have been slaughtered and there is an excess of flesh it is thrown away.)

It matters little if camels, goats or cows are killed for Bakri Idd, or if goats, chicken and buffalo calves are sacrificed in Hindu temples to appease deities such as Samantdada, Manju Bhog, goddesses Hadimba Mata, Ekvira, Kamakhya, Mahalaxmi and Kali, at festivals like the Biroba Jatra, or the captured wild fox, sheep and goat sacrifices take place at Makara Sankranti.


It is brutal killing of animals and birds which can only be stopped by enlightened religious leaders as was done in 1989 when BWC persuaded the Catholic Church to stop the age old barbaric custom of teenage boys biting a piglet to death at Terekol, Goa in celebration of St John’s Baptism.


Political Sanctions and Reasons


Despite protests from animal activists, in 2002 Nepal’s former King Gyanendra offered a number of animals to be sacrificed at Kamakhya temple in Guwahati and then at the Kalighat temple along with traditional Hindu pujas. If the visiting head of a neighbouring state perpetuates this barbaric custom, does it mean that we have to accept it?

Earlier in 2000, the Compassionate Crusaders Trust had sought legal steps against the practice of animal sacrifice at the Kalighat temple which resulted in the 2006 Calcutta High Court verdict that killing should not be conducted in open public view. In effect, sacrifice continued.


When in 2008 the UPA Government won the trust vote in Parliament, 242 goats and 4 buffaloes were “offered for sacrifice” (read “murdered”) at the Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati. The victory resulted in so many innocent animals losing their lives.

To restore former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda’s future after being booked under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, in November 2009 his wife resorted to sacrificing 11 goats.

Camels


In November 2005 some BWC members in Kochi found that two camels had been brought to Kochi for feasting on camel meat during Ramzaan Idd. On receiving their complaint the Kochi Corporation banned their slaughter. The owner of the camels approached the Kerala High Court but before the case could conclude one of the camels died due to poor living conditions and an improper diet. The judgement pronounced that the other camel could not be slaughtered on the grounds that there was no provision for slaughtering camels within the corporation limits, no qualified vet to certify its fitness for slaughter or suitability of its meat for human consumption, and no one licensed to slaughter or sell camel meat.

The Karnataka High Court in January 2009 forbid camels to be brought into the state due to climatic conditions being unsuitable for them resulting in several deadly infectious diseases like anthrax which put other animals and humans at risk.

Karnataka is the not the only state where camels are taken for being sacrificed for Bakri Idd. They are walked out of Rajasthan and Gujarat (the desert regions from where they hail) to far flung places in India. There are objections from West Bengal too. And, a case is pending in Chennai too where BWC has supported the PIL by People for Cattle in India.

In 2014 after Rajasthan granted state heritage status to the camel, their sacrifice for Bakri Idd automatically stopped within the state. For example, the Tonk royal family discontinued the 150 year tradition.

BWC supported People for Cattle in India’s PIL resulting in the Chennai High Court passing an interim order banning camel slaughter for religious purposes in Tamil Nadu. This was in September 2016 before Bakri Idd.


Tourists Hate Witnessing Gory Killing


BWC has drawn the attention of the Ministry of Tourism more than once to the increasing prevalence of animal slaughter in tourist locations and requested a strong directive be issued to curtail it. It was pointed out that whether in butcher shops or as ritual sacrifice in temples, the sights, sounds and smells of animal slaughter are extremely upsetting to the mind of the tourist, more so if from abroad since foreigners on seeing animals’ throats being slit are so shocked they do not hesitate to label our country barbaric. Tourists come to experience a relaxed time, not a time disturbed by the very shocking sights and pitiful sounds of animals being slaughtered or awaiting slaughter. In our appeal letters we added that although we know that butchery of animals is not prohibited, we would like it to be recognised as a moral issue in human society today and so requested that its prevalence not be encouraged. It was therefore especially important to keep tourist places pleasant and beautiful, and free of animal slaughter. Otherwise tourists would prefer staying away from such locations.

Two examples of temples cited in our appeals to the Government (mentioned above) and where BWC has put in efforts to try to stop animal sacrifice are the Hadimba Mata temple and Ekvira Mata Mandir.

Hadimba Mata Temple


Situated in the picturesque bills of Manali, quite close to the centre of town, is the Hadimba Park frequented by scores of tourists who come there to enjoy the greenery. This park, besides having gardens of trees and flower beds to walk through also has a temple dedicated to the deity Hadimba Mata, the wife of the well-known Mahabharata character Bheem.

Sadly, this temple has the disrepute of being a site of animal sacrifice. It has a balivedi (the sacrificial altar, the stone on which the animal is placed to be killed) in a prominent location outside the temple, and its portals are decorated with bones and skulls of animals which, one presumes, are the victims of earlier sacrifices. People come there carrying beheaded hens, blood dripping from their necks, which is smeared over the sacrificial alter. Children watch with fear-filled eyes as bloodied animal bodies are brought there and taken out as prasad after the altar is anointed. There are others who do the actual killing at the altar. Enquiries revealed that hens, goats, and sheep are the animals commonly sacrificed.

Ekvira Mata Mandir


All tourists to the Buddhist caves of Karla, near the popular resort of Lonavala in Maharashtra, have to pass through the Ekvira Mata Mandir built right outside the doorway of the caves. But first, as the visitor leaves the highway to go to the temple, s/he has to pass a row of bloody butcher shops which is obviously undesirable. In the name of Goddess Ekvira, people bring animals and get them butchered in the mutton shops of Vehergaon. Some of the mutton shops are properly constructed, some are open thatched sheds. Most of the animals brought are young kids or lambs. The sight of butchers slitting the throats of such innocent animals in full view of each other and leaving them to die in pools of blood, legs kicking and headless bodies giving involuntary jerks as life ebbs from them, is heart-rending to say the least. The visitor is shocked, left horrified at the insensitivity of devotees and the barbarism of the situation.

This practice shoots up on Sundays and peaks during the Saptami jatra held on the saptami of the Chaitra month. Open slaughter of hundreds of animals takes place at this jatra. The ceremonial sacrifices (“maan”) are given in the presence of the administration’s representative, the Tehsildar (or in his absence, the invited chief guest) at 4 am. The participation of the administration in the jatra sacrifices is especially objectionable: instead of stopping such barbaric – and illegal – practices the administration is found to openly encourage it.

The practice of animal sacrifice is tragic for happening right outside the Buddhist caves of Karla which are a tourist attraction. Ironically, animal sacrifice was one of the social evils that Buddha had fought against in his lifetime. 2,000 years later, it continues to be practised, and that too right outside Buddhist caves.

During the month prior to the scheduled Ekvira Mata Jatra of 2008, BWC teams visited Karla and several villages from which people would be participating but it was difficult to convince the fisher-folk to donate their own blood instead of sacrificing animals. Nevertheless, on the day we asked the Inlacks & Budhrani Hospital from Pune to set up a blood donation camp at the site. BWC was the first to think of and hold such a blood collection drive in India. (Since then few animal activists and organisations have managed to convince some devotees in different parts of India to donate their blood instead of shedding the blood of innocent animals.) A common excuse for not donating blood was that they were under the influence of alcohol. Very few people therefore availed of this facility and donated blood. Thousands of animals were killed that night in the presence of each other, and in the presence of children who were in fact helping the butchers. On seeing goats being killed outside the authorised area, and the Police expressing inability to take action, BWC lodged a complaint at the Lonavala police station.


However, during the 2012 jatra, Beauty Without Cruelty and the Sarva Jeeva Mangal Pratishthan (SJMP) managed to successfully convince many Ekvira Devi devotees with the help of Marathi pamphlets and corner-meetings, not to buy and kill animals, as a result of which about 70% of animals remained unsold. Simultaneously, the police ensured that the ban on animal slaughter on the hill was implemented to a great extent. Therefore, at the end of the three day jatra it was estimated that 7000 to 8000 chickens and goats must have been saved.


In April 2013 for the jatra, SJMP and BWC campaigned together again. Weeks in advance letters were sent to numerous politicians asking them for support. The Police were contacted. Huge hoardings were put up and thousands of pamphlets in Marathi were distributed at the site and inserted in local newspapers. At the meeting of the organisers of the jatra which was attended by the trustees and head priest of the Ekvira Devi temple, our representatives were able to considerably convince the persons who mattered. The result of our efforts bore fruit with policemen checking each and every vehicle and not allowing liquor and animals to be taken up the hill. However, as we couldn’t get the authorities to close the butcher shops at the foothill, killing of some chickens and goats did unfortunately take place. Eight major Marathi and Hindi newspapers covered our campaign and praised what we had achieved saying it was unprecedented success because no animal was taken up to the temple and sacrificed there.

The highlight of our 2014 campaign to end animal sacrifice at Ekvira Devi jatra was the chief pujari of the temple saying he dreamt the Devi did not want animals to be sacrificed but this amazing development did not eliminate sacrifices totally. Nevertheless, year-on-year since 2008, our efforts have lessened the number of animals sacrificed. Many more animals would be saved if the butcher shops were to be closed on the days of the jatra and no goats and chickens are sold on and around the hill area. But to achieve this, we need much more understanding and support from the temple authorities and government functionaries. SJMP and BWC will therefore continued to try to make them see our point of view.

On the first day of the 2015 Ekvira Devi jatra, representatives of BWC and SJMP, visited Karla, and while distributing 4,000 leaflets appealed to people not to sacrifice animals. Again this year, the police had been vigilant and did not allow people to take animals and alcohol up to the temple, but 4 chickens and 1 goat were seen being taken up and brought down alive. However, the 3 butcher shops at the foot of the hill were selling to and killing chickens and goats for devotees. Again we hope we will be able to successfully convince the authorities not to allow the butcher shops to operate next year.

Again in April 2016 Beauty Without Cruelty and Sarva Jeeva Mangal Pratishthan tried to stop animal sacrifice during the Ekvira Devi Jatra at Karla. We displayed hoardings, our volunteers distributed 5,000 pamphlets, and the Marathi publications covered our efforts. For the first time during the public function to honour the palkis, it was announced by the Temple’s Managing Trustee that no killing of animals would be permitted on the hill. But, on that day about ten devotees were seen individually taking chickens and one goat up to the temple and bringing them down alive. They were then presumably killed. We therefore wish the butcher shops would not be allowed to operate at the foot of the hill. Nevertheless, due to our awareness campaigns the number of animals killed lessens each year.


Shree Yedumata temple


Similarly, at the Shree Yedumata temple in Pimpledari village, taluka Akole, Ahmednagar district, during the jatra about 1,500 goats get sacrificed. On 14 March 2015 SJMP and BWC people, together with local social workers approached the officials of the Gram Panchayat of the village, Prant Adhikari and Tehsildar of Akole. Later we got to know that since some people of the Bhil community wanted animals to be sacrificed, a meeting had been called on 31 March at the Tehsidkar’s office. It was attended by representatives of Ahmednagar SPCA and BWC, but it was not possible to convince the devotees and unfortunately the animal sacrifices as scheduled took place during 2 to 5 April 2015.

Mandirs in Mumbai


BWC was shocked beyond words to know in 2006 that animal sacrifices in the name of religion took place in metropolitan Mumbai temples: one the Gaodevi Mandir on Amboli Hill and the other a similar Gaodevi temple on Gilbert Hill (Gaodevi is a Marathi term connoting a “village temple” harking back to the time when Mumbai was a congregation of small villages each with a temple of its own) both in isolated locations. As the only authorised place of slaughter in Mumbai is Deonar abattoir, BWC together with local animal welfare organisation representatives approached the Police who agreed to help. Accordingly, on the eve of Dassera at 11.30 pm when 10-12 sheep and goats were found tied outside the Gaodevi Mandir on Amboli Hill along with some cocks awaiting animal sacrifice, the Oshiwara police were informed. At 1 am the inspector on night duty along with his men went to the temple. He reported that to his own surprise, he was able to convince the people at the temple without difficulty, not to engage in animal slaughter there; whether or not the animals were sacrificed elsewhere, we do not know, but hope not.


In 2015 the 150-year old Jivdani Goddess temple atop a hill in Virar ensured that no animals and birds would be sacrificed during Navratri. Having failed to totally discourage animal sacrifice for the past few years, the temple authorities installed 93 closed circuit television cameras along the temple route.

However, in view of goats being slaughtered at very many temples in Maharashtra just before the month of Shravan began, and the meat being distributed as prasad, in 2017 a letter from the Animal Welfare Board of India got the Pune Police to agree to stop animal sacrifice at temples.


Fox Ritual and No Sacrifice at Udbur


The brutal ritual of fox sacrifice is prevalent in a number of villages of Karnataka on the occasion of Makar Sankranti. Foxes are illegally trapped, their mouths sewn with needle and thread and presented to the deity and then their lower right ears are amputated and a pack of stray starving dogs made to attack them. Traumatised, mauled, bleeding and dying, the fox is then let loose in the forest. In 1997 Beauty Without Cruelty along with Compassion Unlimited Plus Action was successful in obtaining a Court order thanks to which the cruelty inflicted on the foxes was lessened, but unfortunately nothing could be done to stop the hundreds of sheep and goats which were sacrificed in the temples. However, in 1998, BWC managed to further lessen the suffering inflicted upon the captured fox and succeeded in convincing the inhabitants of the Udbur village against the goat and sheep sacrifice as a result of which not a single animal was killed. Since then they have never sacrificed animals.

The forest department refused to give permission for people to hunt and drive foxes or jackals into the Arulmigu Meenakshi Sundareshhwar Temple at Madurai on 3 September 2014 as part of the ritual for Nariyai Pariyakkuthal. (As per legend, a pack of foxes turned into a fine breed of horses, and in the night became foxes and let us a deafening howl because Manickavasagar, one of the 4 Saivite savants of the 9th century used the money meant for buying horses to construct a temple at Avudaiyar Koil, known as Thiruperunthurai in Pudukottai district.)


A Little More Success


At the Mari Jathra and Thingala Jathra in villages around Tumkur, Karnataka, sacrificial beheading of male buffaloes to appease goddess Maramma takes place at annual fairs. In 1991, Beauty Without Cruelty along with Akhil Karnataka Prani Daya Sangh managed to foil the beheading of about 100 buffaloes by contacting localities, distributing leaflets and giving speeches.

A 120 year old tradition of animal sacrifice finally ended in 2012 thanks to police intervention following persistent efforts of two NGOs over 12 years. Till then, to celebrate the Rajo Sankranti festival, every year hundreds of animals were sacrificed in the name of the Deity Maa Ramchandi at Srirampur and neighbouring villages in Orissa.

Buffaloes were also not sacrificed at the 2012 Kherling Mahadev Mela at Mundneshwar temple in Kaljikhal block, about 45 kms from Pauri Garhwal (Uttarakhand). Although one and two were kept for sacrifice at Guthinda village and Chhota Kherling Mahadev at Barkot they were handed over live to the administration. (Some goats may have been slaughtered but not on the temple premises.) It is commendable that the administration motivated the people of Aswalsuen, Patwalsuen and Maniyarsuen patties against animal sacrifice which resulted in no bloodshed. Apart from their efforts the high cost of buffaloes (Rs 40,000) and cost of rituals spanning a fortnight prior to sacrifice (Rs 25-30,000) played an important role resulting in no animal being sacrificed.


All over India animal activists are trying their utmost by convincing people to stop animals being sacrificed. Ancient practices that begun with few animals being killed have at most places escalated to thousands of lives being sacrificed like at the Poleramma Jatra, Venkatagiri, Andhra Pradesh. In 2012 a strong movement was launched to halt the evil practice. Yet in July 2015, some superstitious persons of Rangareddy district of Andhra Pradesh sacrificed a goat for the s