DELHI––Did a two-justice bench from the Supreme Court of India on October 17, 2014 strike a mighty blow against animal sacrifices at the Gadhi Mai festival, to be held in the village of Bariyarpur, Nepal, on November 28-29, 2014?
Or did the Supreme Court justices just hand the government of India and a coalition of animal advocacy groups a face-saving way to declare victory when the much ballyhooed festival turns out to be magnitudes of order smaller than the hyperbolic claims of both the priests promoting it and the activists trying to stop it?
The Gadhi Mai festival is said to have been held every five years for several centuries, but no written record of it has been found that predates the 2001-2006 regime of Gyanendra Bir Bikram Dev, the unpopular last hereditary king of Nepal, who sought to keep his throne in part by courting practitioners of animal sacrifice.
Claims of astronomical numbers
Claims that astronomical numbers of animals are killed at the Gadhi Mai festival surfaced in 2004. A variety of documentation including video of the 2009 Gadhi Mai sacrifices suggests that about 2,500 buffalo were killed then, and smaller numbers of goats, chickens, and miscellaneous other small animals, but the priests involved have claimed that 50,000 animals were killed, including 20,000 buffalo––about three times as many as could stand within a three-kilometer radius of the Bariyarpur alter. Activist web sites often inflate the toll to 500,000.
The Supreme Court of India has no jurisdiction over anything done in Nepal, but there is general agreement from all sides that about 70% of the buffalo killed during the Gadhi Mai festival are imported from India.
This is not withstanding that the total number of buffalo imported from Nepal to India in the whole of 2009, through 23 recognized border crossings, came to 11,674, most of them trucked directly to the meat markets of Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital city.
Opponents of the Gadhi Mai sacrifices have countered the border crossing data by alleging that thousands of buffalo are smuggled to Bariyarpur by marching them overland from India. This undocumented claim has become embarrassing to the Indian government, already repeatedly embarrassed by exposés of well-documented illegal exports of cattle from West Bengal to slaughter in Bangladesh.
But even if 70% of the buffalo sacrificed at Bariyarpur were smuggled across the relatively open border nearby during the week preceding the Gadhi Mai festival, mustering and moving numbers larger than were customarily moved in Old West cattle drives would be unlikely.
The Supreme Court verdict enables the government of India and activist groups to claim success in cutting off the traffic to the Gadhi Mai sacrifice if the actual numbers of buffalo killed are significantly lower than the much publicized activist claims, even if no buffalo transports are interdicted.
Attorney Anand Grover argued the case for closing the Indian border to buffalo exports to Nepal on behalf of petitioner Gauri Maulekhi of People for Animals Uttarakhand and coplaintiff Humane Society International.
Posted HIS farm animal welfare specialist Jayasimha Nuggehalli, “Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar observed that the sacrifice of animals at the Gadhi Mai festival is ‘demeaning and cruel.’ He asked the counsel appearing for the Union of India what was being done to prevent such brutal treatment being meted out to India’s animals. Senior advocate Grover brought the Court’s attention to India’s Export-Import Policy, under the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992, which categorically places live cattle and buffaloes in the restricted category of exports, requiring a license to legally export them. He further stated that this was being totally flouted as most of the animals were transported illegally through the porous border, without an export license. The Bench passed an interim order, directing the Union of India to check the illegal movement of animals across the border to Nepal.”
Wrote Justice Khehar and Justice Arun Mishera, “We direct the respondents to ensure that no live cattle and buffaloes are exported out of India into Nepal, but under license.”
That exempts the routine slaughter traffic to Kathmandu, which is mostly conducted under license. The Union of India and the four states bordering Nepal––Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and West Bengal––were already enjoined to prevent cattle smuggling.
Unless documentation emerges in November 2014 that large numbers of cattle and buffalo are being smuggled to Bariyarpur, all can claim success.
(See also: Exposing the truth of the Gadhi Mai sacrificial slaughter, http://wp.me/p4pKmM-6J; Books shed light on sacrifice in Nepal, http://www.animals24-7.org/2014/03/12/books-shed-light-on-sacrifice-in-nepal/ and The origin of the Gadhi Mai sacrifice, http://www.animals24-7.org/2014/03/12/427/
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