Just before the 2002 World Cup Football, there was a huge outcry in the Western world demanding a ban on the eating of dogs in Korea. Earlier during the 1988 Olympics, frightened of damaging the country’s ‘international image’, the government had to ask its citizens not to consume dog. This, despite the fact that Korea itself is a major player in the ‘international’ economy. Consumption of dog-meat is a centuries-old tradition in South-East Asia and in parts of North-Eastern India. The Westerners’ logic for asking to outlaw this tradition is, “the dog is a companion animal.” Compare that to cow-eating (beef) by the Westerners – the animal is worshiped by Hindus as Goddess and is highly revered. The meat-industry in America is subsidized by the government. It would have looked more convincing if such a open display of double standard were shrouded inside some more-credible sounding reasons or methods.
Talk of animal rights. In a recent radio interview, a Nepalese conservationist said that all animals (reared or otherwise) should be allowed to grow to their normal full size and age before they are consumed. Now compare that to the huge number of lambs (a young sheep less than one year is called a lamb) and calves that are consumed in the West. Statistics released by the American government alone reveal that a total (heads) of 956,600 calves, 2.56 million lambs and more than 6 million cows were consumed in 2008.
In the Judaeo-Christian festival of Passover, also described in in the Bible, a lamb is required to be sacrificed by each family. The mass-sacrifice ceremony was discontinued many years ago after the site of the sacrifice- the Temple in Jerusalem – was destroyed and because of fears of possible religious tensions in view with the sensitivity of the region, rather than because of the new-found love for the poor creature. Active plans to resume the tradition after rebuilding the Temple are underway. A public “rehearsal” of this sacrifice was pronounced “proper” by a Court in Isreal, and in process the claims of animal cruelty by animal-rights groups were categorically rejected. More than a hundred million turkeys are killed during the Thanksgiving. In the Muslim festival of Hajj, a large number of animals are sacrificed too.
Why then do we see the unnaturally high number of opinions, discussions, and web pages dedicated to the recently observed Gadhimai festival in the top list of Google-search results for queries containing “Nepal”, “Hinduism”, “sacrifice”, “animal” and many others? Look all over the web and you’ll see that the Gadhimai is being advertised by many news agencies as the largest animal-sacrifice on Earth. Gadhimai sacrifices take place once every five years and an estimated half-millon animals were butchered this year. Incidentally, this year, the dates of Gadhimai almost coincided with the Turkish Festival of Kurban Bayramı, when an estimated 2.5 million animals are sacrificed each year. The New York Times writes that it is hardly uncommon to see animal blood trickling down the streets during the this Muslim festival. Kurban Bayramı is linked to one of the most important Muslim festivals, the Eid al-Adha, which means “festival of sacrifice” in Arabic.
Think of doing some online research on the news coverage (by major agencies like BBC) of the death of people in Nepal because of the yearly floods, almost-weekly road accidents that kill scores, frequent occurrences of abduction and killings, or the epidemic-scale cholera and diarrhoea that kill thousands. For the sheer lack of information available, you’ll have to tell yourself that it is unreasonable to expect a small and poor country like Nepal to receive a coverage (read global coverage if you want, but even local coverage is poor enough) for such minor subjects. But try to google the death of two Christians in an isolated event last year, and you’ll be surprised by the attention earned by this country, the 40th most populous in the world. Gadhimai is another one among such subjects.
For people like me, participation in a debate like this often results in earning the label of a right-wing extremist, thanks to all the pundits, including the ones respected by our own society who have narrowed the spectrum down to the Dubya-style good-or-evil. Public display of violence and cruelty is not good, and it is worse to validate it in the name of religion.
But monotonous rhetoric aimed at victimizing one of the world’s poorest peoples, purported through hypocritical and lopsided agents and arguments of morality is a very bad substitute. No one in his right mind should buy the logic that children of third-world countries idolize anything local and traditional, including violence in their underbelly, when all of their dreams are stuffed of Hollywood movies of the gun-totting Rambos and Terminators and the glamorous news-stories of shootouts in the public-schools of their land of dreams. Asking to be vegetarian for health or climate reasons might still be acceptable, but devouring lambs and calves and celebrating the arrival of the non-vegetarian food-chain KFC, while remaining indifferent to the prolonged periods of scarcity of basic food-items like salt and rice for the people of Karnali is by all means a gross violation of animal rights, civil duties and the shameless misuse of the privilege to preach morality.
Let’s begin by asking how many cultural, religious, linguistic or otherwise unique identities of people the world-over have been made extinct by the colonial practices and market-oriented advances of the elites, both local and global? Let’s begin by asking why the world has to conform to a uniform and taught idea of morality and civilization. Can’t we let a small group of people, devoid of infrastructures, development and attention from the physical-political powers continue with what they think is their way to ask for such luxuries from their only source of hope – the metaphysical powers? Only if in afterthought, maybe our elites could use their influence to lobby for more development and prosperity to the people of the region so that such traditions would turn less attractive. Maybe we can start by making such occasions more regulated, away from public places and children and with maintained levels of hygiene and health. And, could we please start by making sure that such events don’t turn into an opportunity to vilify our broader identity and regional pride of history and culture? Hinduism and Nepalese culture, both are too unorganized and diverse systems (there are many vegetarians and even non-worshiping sects in Hinduism) for a local festival to be made representative of their nature and values. Maybe, we could also begin by asking ourselves why Gadhimai, a festival that has been observed since many many years ago, and which used to go largely unreported (as if it was ok. and unreported like many other things in the region) attracted so much of international attention this year?
In conclusion, and not in relation to the above paragraphs: how many animals, both human and non-humans do the Western powers, with the endorsement of their media, kill every year? And is it not in the name of religion that George W Bush, Israel, Palestine and Al Qaeda all validated such sacrifices? Why is Afganistan not called the largest animal-sacrifice of the year, and is it because the winner of Nobel Peace Prize approves the killings? A reminder to those who might have forgotten: in 2001, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that the death of more than a half million children in Iraq because of US sanctions, despite being a very hard choice , was “worth the price.” Of course, ‘out-of-context’ and off-topic subjects like the famous cultural event and a global spectacle – the bullfighting – are way beyond consideration in discussions like these.
Update: 7th Dec 2009: I’ve written a follow-up to this post.