A temple in Nepal’s Bara District has banned its controversial mass sacrifice of animals, according to animal rights group Humane Society International.
The Hindu festival takes place every five years and is celebrated by the people of southern Nepal and neighbouring Bihar (India). In 2009, approximately 500,000 water-buffaloes, goats and other animals were slaughtered during the festivities.
The animals are sacrificed to the goddess of power, Gadhimai, to ensure a better life for the pilgrims.
According to Humane Society International’s press release on Tuesday, the temple had agreed to “cancel all future animal sacrifice”. It also quoted the chairman of the Gadhimai Temple Management and Development Committee, Ram Chandra Shah, as hoping for a 2019 celebration “free of bloodshed”.
The chief priest, as well as three other members of the temple committee, joined Humane Society International in their announcement to the press.
Mr Shah, however, denied having declared the ban on animal sacrifice. “Nothing will change”, he told the BBC. While he did not object to a ban, he doubted devotees would change their tradition.
Motilal Prasad, secretary of the temple trust, has confirmed that the temple is indeed planning to shift towards vegetarian offerings. “I realised that animals are so much like us… and feel the same pain we do,” Prasad told AFP.
If Mr Shah has changed his approach towards the sensitive issue, or if the temple board members are split on the issue the ban, remains uncertain.
The festival takes place over a two-day period during which the animals are slaughtered both in the temple and in the surrounding fields. The support of the temple’s chief priest is pivotal for the campaign. According to Animal Welfare Network Nepal (AWNN) president, Manoj Gautam, the practice will be impossible without the priest.
AWNN has been campaigning for the end of the ritual sacrifice since 2009 together with Humane Society International and People for Animals.
In 2014, the activists petitioned to India’s Supreme Court to halt the transportation of animals to the festival. The Court placed an interim order on the Indian government, as the animals were being exported by people without a license – a practice which violated its Foreign Trade Act. The 2014 festival saw therefore a considerably smaller number of animals sacrificed.
For the next four years the animal rights groups are aiming to spread awareness among the population, ahead of the 2019 festival.