Operation Gadhimai

Following ARM’s in-depth investigations of an influx of animal religious sacrifice cases, ARM received dozens of pleas to assist in appealing this year’s Gadhimai Festival in Nepal, known as the largest animal sacrifice festival in the world.

In true fashion of the ARM’s vanguard methods, the organization decided to embark upon a grueling ten-day trip halfway around the world, to document ‘first of it’s kind’ footage of the savage ongoings of the festival.

The Gadhimai Festival is held once every five years and has been a tradition for over the last 250 years. Pilgrimages from across Nepal, and as far abroad as India, are made by devotees wishing to offer their animals to the Goddess of Gadhimai to fulfill their desperate wishes and end any evil in their lives or bring prosperity.

ARM Investigators were the first American based animal cruelty investigations organization to go undercover and infiltrate into the Gadhimai Festival, located in Southern Nepal, where thousands of buffalo faced an extremely ruthless killing spree, held over the 28th and 29th of November, 2014.

Also, Investigators ventured outside of the temple’s perimeter into the outskirts of the India-Nepal border to obtain exclusive footage and documentation of multiple sacrifices that took place simultaneously to the main event.

A total of two million people made the pilgrimage to the festival this year. An estimated half of a million animals (double that of the last festival) were brutally tortured and slaughtered. A large percentage of animals were half dead from sheer exhaustion and lack of food and water after they concluded the long haul to the village of Bariyarpur in the Bara District of Nepal, 100 km south of the bustling city of Katmandu and 20km from the border of India.

ARM investigators witnessed up to 5,000 buffalo sentenced to untimely, gruesome deaths contained behind a stone wall field leading up to the massacre. Other types of animals, including goats, roosters, ducks, pigeons, and baby calves, were slaughtered barbarically around the Temple perimeter throughout the festival.

The slaughters and ceremonies involved some of the most disturbing and primitive fashions that even shocked ARM investigators to their core. Selected butchers used traditional machete style weapons known as Kukuri knivesAfter being paid by people wishing to make an offering, the butchers hacked away at the necks of baby goats (and a variety of other animals). The baby goats, terrified, were coaxed down with ropes, their necks stretched out, hind legs anchored out by assistants and blessed with incense, flowers, paint, and holy water before their deaths.

At approximately 8 am on the 28th of November following a dawn ceremony, thousands of buffalo were subjected to hours of bloodshed torture by over 400 butchers wielding Kukuri knives in every direction. People choose buffalos due to the belief of being the ‘carriers of demons.’ Butchers proudly stated on film to ARM investigators of personally slaying between 70 to 190 animals each.

In the aftermath of the event, ARM Investigators documented hundreds of animals who were still alive as the butchers grew tired of their spree. Many had fainted or become paralyzed from fear and shock, leaving them to die drawn out and painful deaths. Others deemed unworthy to sacrifice after limbs were severed. After already shedding blood to the gods, they become useless even to acknowledge and were left alone to stumble throughout the mass piles of dismembered bodies- baby calves shaking and wailing- crying out for their mothers.

The close of the animal sacrifices two days later ended with the burying of all of the buffalo heads in a large pit, while the rotting remains of the decomposing bodies filled the air.

ARM Investigators witnessed animals tortured and slaughtered freely in the presence of children as young as two years old, throughout the festival amidst a surreal surrounding environment of Ferris wheels, food booths, and entertainment – merged into one big celebration. Disturbing in the least but also creating a degenerative and desensitized example that these forms of animal cruelty and abuse are acceptable for future generations, masked as tradition.

Aside from the unimaginable animal cruelty, the festival also bought about extreme dangers and hazards to the public. However, heavily armed Nepalese police dutifully monitored the crowds, the chaos of two million attendees caused near riots and stampedes. Several people died, crushed to death during the frenzied killing sprees.

A tainted governing and presence of corruption has formed around the Gadhami Festival since the last festival in 2009, which had always been a much more freely, public, and less restricted public event during the previous years. However, this year, the committee that oversees the festival appeared to have had a revelation about generating a remarkable profit from this highly celebrated ‘religious’ event.

Many people believe the committee is attempting to rob the underprivileged people of Nepal and India of their tradition of previously feeding their families from the meat of the slaughtered animals and using the hides for their shelter and clothing. Something that became clear when the committee projected fears of having this Hindu driven tradition receiving negative attention. The committee was also extremely nervous and concerned about any bad media getting out about the festival. However, their concerns lay more within being discovered about making money from people’s faiths and traditions, as was evident in ‘threats’ that were made to our team members if we portrayed ‘the wrong message.’ 

Due to exposure of the committee’s intention to have contracts fulfilled on collecting the meat and skins of the buffalo to be sold to local slaughterhouses and tanneries for profit, the last-minute decision allowed locals to strip the meat from the corpses of the buffalo for their use. ARM, However, document contractors collecting buffalo hides once the crowds dissipated.

A grand movement in this tradition is rapidly evolving following National and International pressures of animal activist organizations who attempted to halt this year’s festival. India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Damodardas Modie, also enforced a last-minute Supreme court ruling to ban the live import of animals into Nepal, where over 70 percent of the animals used at Gadhami, is believed to have originated. 

Law enforcement made over 2500 confiscations of animals and 114 arrests at the border to minimize the number of animals sacrificed at the event.

No robust animal protection laws are currently being set or enforced in Nepal. It is with determined efforts from ARM and other reputable organizations that the Government of Nepal will follow suit with some of the laws already in the book in neighboring countries, such as in India.

While uncovered in Nepal, ARM also learned of several other currently unexposed festivals and ceremonies, which are equally dire as the Gadhami Festival and unknown to the rest of the world. ARM will be conducting further investigations to uncover these practices soon.

ARM’s goal is to aid in projecting the widespread global exposure of the extreme animal cruelty of The Gadhimai Festival. Raising public awareness is critical in legislating new animal protection laws and plays a vital role in education.