Dahal won 2014 Supreme Court of Nepal case against Gadhi Mai mass sacrifice
KATHMANDU, Nepal––Nepal Animal Welfare & Research Center founder Uttam G.P. Dahal, 33, died on July 26, 2019 after battling illness for most of his brief but dynamic life.
Dahal left Santana Sharma, his wife of just two years and two months, and a daughter, Samridhi, born in May 2019.
Dahal had already turned the management of the Nepal Animal Welfare & Research Center over to longtime colleague Sujan Bhandari, but remained active as a volunteer, while pursuing a career in management at DBros IT Services in Kathmandu.
Impaired immune system
Earlier, Dahal had studied human resource management at Kavre Multiple Campus, founded in 1980, but nonetheless one of the oldest public universities in Nepal, which is still among the poorest and least developed nations. More than a third of the Nepali population live below the global poverty level.
“At the age of eight years,” Dahal told ANIMALS 24-7 in 2017, “my spleen was removed because I had serious bleeding inside my stomach and I vomited blood. My parents are not literate and they trusted what the doctor said. This was in 1994. Since then my immune system has been impaired, and I have struggled for my health,” having follow-up surgeries in 2013 and 2014, hernia surgery in 2016, and another surgery in October 2017 to stop recurring internal bleeding.
Hospitalized for eight days at the Dhulikhel Hospital at Kathmandu University, Dahal was eventually flown to the Jaypee Hospital in Noida, New Delhi for another week of emergency treatment.
Asia for Animals 2017
Dahal returned to Kathmandu just in time to distribute leaflets for the Nepal Animal Welfare & Research Center at the 2017 Asia for Animals conference, held in Nepal, after having been excluded from speaking, apparently because the Nepal Animal Welfare & Research Center had accomplished more on high-profile issues than the host organization, despite operating with a tiny fraction of the resources.
(See No karmic justice for activist who did most to end Gadhi Mai sacrifices and Why is Asia for Animals excluding man who won case against Gadhi Mai?)
Dahal started the Nepal Animal Welfare & Research Center, still a small grassroots organization, in 2013, after years of volunteering with other Kathmandu animal charities.
“I have been engaged in research and programs for needy animals in Nepal since many years,” Dahal told ANIMALS 24-7. “I used to work for dog population management by animal birth control, and have two years of experience in it. I have involved myself in anti-rabies vaccination, rescue and treatment campaigns, public awareness, and other animal welfare related activities.”
Dahal also actively encouraged local vegan and vegetarian campaigns.
Supported mainly by fellow Nepalis, with little outside help, the Nepal Animal Welfare & Research Center works both in rural areas and in the Kathmandu valley, chiefly to promote spay/neuter and vaccination of street dogs.
Gadhi Mai 2014
The Jane Goodall Institute Nepal, Humane Society International (the global arm of the Humane Society of the United States), and many other animal charities in Nepal, India, and worldwide in 2014 conducted high-profile media campaigns against the Gadhi Mai mass animal sacrifice held at least three times at five-year intervals in Bariyarpur, a small city in western Nepal near the Indian border.
Boosted by former King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Dev during his brief reign, 2001-2006, the sacrifices in honor of the local goddess Gadhi Mai are commonly said to have originated in the 18th century, but there appears to be no unequivocal written documentation of any such event having been held before 1999.
As many as 2,500 buffalo and hundreds of goats and chickens were killed at the 2004, 2009, and 2014 Gadhi Mai sacrifices, according to analysis of the available photographic documentation.
While that by itself was among the largest verifiable sacrificial tolls at any events ever, both the local priests who promoted the sacrifices and most of the animal advocacy organizations campaigning against the sacrifices made public statements exaggerating the toll of animal lives by as much as a thousandfold.
(See Exposing the truth of the Gadhi Mai sacrificial slaughter and The toll from Gadhi Mai 2014: 750 buffalo sacrificed, 1,000 devotees in attendance.)
Investigative work by Beauty Without Cruelty-India eventually established that the inflated claims probably started with priests selling each animal multiple times to absentee sponsors. Activists then swallowed the inflated claims whole, and exaggerated them further to try to drum up global support for protest––and, of course, donated funds.
Supreme Court of Nepal
Dahal, meanwhile, aware that the Gadhi Mai sacrifices were already illegal under Nepalese law, at his own initiative brought a lawsuit against the sacrifices before the Supreme Court of Nepal. On November 24, 2014, three days before the 2014 Gadhi Mai sacrificial festival, Dahal won the first Supreme Court of Nepal judgment against the sacrifices, but was unable to obtain an injunction reinforcing the judgement with an order that would have stopped the killing before it proceeded.
Under pressure of the Supreme Court of Nepal verdict, “We have decided to completely stop the practice of animal sacrifice,” Gadhi Mai Temple Trust secretary Motilal Prasad on July 28, 2015 told the Himalayan Times.
Declarations of “victory”
The Humane Society of the United States, the HSUS subsidiary Humane Society International, and other animal charities that had nothing whatever to do with winning the Dahal case, immediately declared “victory” in fundraising appeals.
Yet when Dahal asked the other organizations campaigning against the Gadhi Mai sacrifices for just $520 to have the order he won from the Supreme Court of Nepal professionally translated into English and notarized, none responded except ANIMALS 24-7, which had already contributed the first $52 in expectation that at least nine other claimants of the “victory” would match it.
Supreme Court of Nepal Justices Ishwori Prasad Khatiwada and Anil Kumar Sinha on August 4, 2016 affirmed the November 24, 2014 ruling, in response to a writ petition filed by animal advocate Arjun Kumar Aryal on November 20, 2014, four days before the verdict in the Dahal case was issued.
Dahal remained concerned that the Gadhi Mai sacrificial festival might be revived, informing ANIMALS 24-7 several times that Bariyarpur community leaders believed they had been promised development aid from Humane Society International and other animal charities that had not materialized.
As recently as June 2019 Dahal appealed to ANIMALS 24-7 for coverage that might help the eight-member Federation of Animal Welfare in Nepal (FAWN) to respond to a Gadhi Mai sacrificial festival revival. But as of late July 2019, there is no actual indication that a revival of a large-scale sacrifice is planned, though sacrifices might occur on a typical village scale, involving fewer animals than might be eaten at the average U.S. church potluck.
FAWN, which Dahal helped to form, includes besides the Nepal Animal Welfare a& Research Center, the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Center founded by the late Jan Salter (see Jan Salter, 82, mastered the arts of animal & human aid in Kathmandu), Animal Nepal, the Himalayan Animal Rescue Trust, Save The Animal Nepal, Sneha’s Care, SPCA Nepal, and Voice of Animals Nepal.
Street dog work
After the Gadhi Mai campaign, Dahal again focused on street dog vaccination and sterilization, including at the Pasupatinath Temple, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site visited by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and tourists each year.
“Because of unmanaged garbage, a high breeding population of free-roaming street dogs, and good habitat in temple complex,” Dahal told supporters via Facebook, “the scattered dogs have become a problem for the incoming visitors. The Government of Nepal has not considered the rabies risk seriously,” and accordingly has not responded with an effective vaccination and sterilization program.
“This has not only caused various problems and suffering in street dogs,” Dahal said, “but also has increased the road accidents, rabies and other zoonotic risks to human life. People hate street dogs because they are scared of rabies transmission and the low quality of services and medicines used in government clinics to treat dog bites. So, they harm the street dogs who come in front of their home and shops.”
An earthquake measuring up to 8.1 on the Richter scale hit central Nepal on April 25, 2015, killing more than 9,000 people, chiefly in suburbs of Kathmandu.
Also killed were about 300,000 farmed animals, mostly chickens.
Again major international animal charities electronically blitzed donors with appeals, though none of them actually had work underway on the ground there until six days later.
Meanwhile, the Nepal Animal Welfare & Research Center, Himalayan Animal Rescue Trust, Animal Nepal, and other Nepal-based animal charities had already mobilized as best they could to help stricken animals––mostly working animals such as donkeys, mules, and bullocks, and cattle and poultry who had been indoors when sheds and barns collapsed.
To help with earthquake relief, Dahal told ANIMALS 24-7, “I joined the HART team,” helping more than 500 injured animals during the next three weeks in Kavrepalanchowk, Sindhupalchowk, Dolakha and Lamjung districts.
“There are no statistical estimates on losses of livestock,” Dahal said, “but almost all of the fallen houses [in rural districts] had cattle inside with the people.”
The injured cattle typically suffered broken bones from falling debris.
“Eighty percent of our cases,” Dahal estimated, “were fractures and broken legs or backbones.”
By the standards of more affluent parts of the world, and even neighboring India and China, the number of cattle in need of help were few. Individual barns in much of the world often hold more cattle than either the sum of cattle known to have been injured by the Nepal earthquake or the numbers killed during the Gadhi Mai sacrifices.
Spectrum of beliefs
But the rescuers doing post-earthquake relief encountered some relatively unique difficulties. Paradoxically to outsiders unfamiliar with the religious diversity of Nepal, while one village may practice animal sacrifice, another just a few miles away may reject killing animals for any reason, including to perform humane euthanasia.
Even more problematic, desperately poor people with few other sources of food and income tended to resist having their one cow euthanized, despite the severity of her injuries, if she was pregnant or still able to give milk.
For Dahal himself, a particular source of grief and frustration were responses to his appeals issued via social media, saying things such as that “The Nepal quake is the revenge from God for the Gadhi Mai massacre.”
Mused Dahal, “I don’t know how the earthquake could be considered karma for the animals who lost their lives, or are suffering with broken legs, broken backs, and other injuries. I am more than happy to take the suffering of all animals and peoples who are having hard lives after this quake as my karma,” Dahal declared, “but please for God’s sake do not give this disaster the name of karma any more!”
Partnering with HART, the Pasupati Area Development Trust and nine other local organizations, Dahal and other Nepal Animal Welfare & Research Center volunteers in February 2016 helped to sterilize, vaccinate, and provide other necessary veterinary care to more than 150 free roaming street dogs in the Pasupati temple area.
The participants went on to conduct similar vaccination and sterilization sweeps at other locations around the Kathmandu valley.
This led to the rescue of a wounded leopard on January 24, 2018.
“Lacking proper instruments and infrastructures,” Dahal recounted, “we initially declined denied to handle the leopard,” but after about an hour of requests from villagers and representatives from District Forest Office, Dahal and fellow volunteers decided “We had no option than using our butterfly net to catch him and take him under control. First it was difficult to capture him, as he was scared, terrified and stressed inside a room. With help of local policeman, we managed the crowd first, then approached the leopard. He was not aggressive because of the stress and wounds.
Very quickly, we sedated him, captured him, and put him in vehicle. The environment was noisy and crowded, so, there was no chances of giving first aid there. So, we brought him to District Forest Office premises.”
Said Dahal from his hospital bed in 2017, via social media, “My ambition is to develop animal welfare in Nepal and support as many needy animals as I can. The whole of my life to date has been busy in serving needy animals wherever I saw them, and I will do so in my rest of life.”
Stacy LeBaron says
So sorry to his family for his early passing. It sounds like he did wonderful work advocating and helping animals. Hopefully efforts will continue in Nepal. Thanks for reporting on this story.
Jamaka Petzak says
I am terribly sorry to read of our collective loss of such a kind, caring, compassionate and hard-working fighter for innocent living beings and those who care for and about them. My heartfelt condolences to the family, loved ones and colleagues of Uttam Dahal, who now must go on without him here. But I rejoice that he is free from a lifetime of suffering here on this earth.
Anna Grice says
I am very sad to hear of the passing of this true determined warrior & voice for animals in Nepal, this is so unfair the one person who made such huge difference to animals in Nepal taken so soon. I remember him during the 2014 Gadhi Mai horror and how hard he fought to end this haunting unimaginable horror to animals which to this day haunts me what I saw in those images. He is a huge loss to the animals of Nepal. I hope his work is carried on in his name. No more Gadhi Mai horror please.
Annoula Wylderich says
A testament to what just one person can do with a little help. What a tragic loss of a good human being and advocate for animals.