Every five years, Southern Nepal becomes the setting for a two-day bloodbath said to be the world’s largest religious animal sacrifice, bringing hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees together to participate in a centuries-old tradition claiming to honor a deity called Gadhimai.
According to news sources, 2009’s festival saw around a quarter of a million terrified and bewildered individuals killed by decapitation, including buffaloes, pigs, goats, lambs, roosters, chickens, water rats and pigeons. By some accounts, that particular festival attracted up to a million participants, many from neighboring India where animal sacrifice is banned. A priest at the Gadhimai temple said he was pleased with the festival’s high turnout that year, stating, “The goddess needs blood.”
By 2014, numbers were supposedly dropping, in response to criticism from animal rights activists and a subsequent government announcement that sacrifice should be discouraged. There is significant variation, however, in these reports, with the disparity no doubt exacerbated by claims from animal rights groups about the effectiveness of their efforts that have since been debunked. In 2015, bold announcements were made that the festival was to be banned altogether, and that 2019’s would be ‘bloodless’.
Nevertheless, Gadhimai devotees turned out in full force a week ago, to a gathering that once again saw the festival fields running red with rivers of blood.
When the sacrifice ritual is over, many of the remains of the slaughtered are taken to local villages to be eaten, with the remaining flesh, bones and hides sold to processing and tannery companies in India and Nepal. Considering the fact that nearly all Indian leather is exported overseas, there’s a good chance that at least some of the skins of these animals will end up being worn by Westerners, who rightly see this kind of brutality as abhorrent, yet likely don’t stop to think about how the skin of an animal is turned into the shoes, bags, belts or jackets that they themselves wear.
To put the numbers into perspective, in the US alone we slaughter over 10 billion land animals for food every year (more than the entire human population). That’s a number so large, it’s almost too vast to fully comprehend. To put it another way, we kill 250,000 animals for food every 15 minutes. In the two days of Gadhimai, while Westerners clamored on Facebook and elsewhere denouncing the cruelty of the slaughter in Nepal, we were busy ourselves slaughtering 55,000,000 animals, while barely anyone blinked an eye, and most people, in fact, were happily partaking of the flesh of the victims.
Certainly, the two things are not exactly the same, but the differences are essentially meaningless. What is relevant is the fact that here in the Western world we also condone unnecessary slaughter in staggering numbers. And just like those in Nepal, we condone that slaughter for our religious festivities, bowing our heads over the bodies of our victims, while we thank our deities for the many blessings we are fortunate to enjoy. We just ask that our sacrificing be done out of plain view, using institutionalized methods, and while the blades are slicing through the throats of our victims, we don’t gather in crowds and dance. In this supposedly superior culture, most of us prefer to hide from the reality of the stomach-turning deeds we ask others to do on our behalf.
In a society that frowns on killing for superstition, and reviles the bloody murder of hundreds of thousands of animals on foreign soil, we have our own deity to feed, and her name is Selfish Pleasure. Her appetite for blood is voracious and apparently insatiable, as we sacrifice over 300 scared, innocent individuals to her every second of every single day.
Who do we think we are? Criticizing the world’s religious poor for their disregard for sentient life, while we sit back in our ivory towers of self-imposed ignorance, refusing to even look at the consequences of our consumer choices.
As pointed out by one blogger,
“Nepal, incidentally, has a poor population for whom meat remains a luxury – for many of those doing the sacrificing, this may be the only meat they eat during the entire year… And the animals themselves were bred to be eaten. So the net effect of the sacrifice seems to be that animals who were going to be slaughtered anyway end up being slaughtered all in the same spot, as a sacrifice, rather than one by one in the home villages.”
I am not trying to suggest that the brutal slaughter of hundreds of thousands of individuals, by any method, is not horrifying and contemptible. Of course it is. To look at the images from the massacre or to read the reports is positively heartbreaking. But surely, if we want to be a part of building a more civilized humanity, we must look beyond the practices that are convenient to condemn, and make an effort to examine the brutality in our own backyards.
Since the online news now allows the ritual of Gadhimai to occur in plain view of the entire world, the festival offers us a clear window through which to view the barbaric nature of slaughter. But until we in the West acknowledge our responsibility to live according to the nonviolent values we profess to embrace, and until we extend our circle of empathy to include those who currently suffer at the hands of people who kill on our behalf, we are simply in no position to vilify the priests or the devotees of Gadhimai.