Operation Makar Sankranti

In late November of 2014, ARM investigators embarked upon a mission half way around the globe to Southern Nepal, where they entered undercover at the world’s largest animal sacrifice festival- Gadhimai. It was here that ARM captured footage that stands to be one of the most grueling investigations on the organization’s agenda to date.

Due to the undeniable and heart wrenching footage which ARM captured during Gadhimai, a global campaign was sparked as well as the decision to extend ARM’s coverage of animal sacrifice ceremonies in Nepal.

Just a few months later on January 14th (2015), ARM returned to the same location where the Gadhimai festival had taken place and documented what is known as ‘Part 2: The Sister of Gadhimai’ Festival.

Whilst many are aware of the horrors of the Gadhimai festival, which occurs every five years, the world is still vaguely unaware of the many other animal sacrifice festivals and ceremonies which occur daily throughout Nepal.

ARM was the only United States animal welfare organization present at the two day event that was observed over the Makar Sankranti holiday.

Makar Sankranti (also known in Nepal as Maghe Sankranti) is an event that is widely celebrated throughout Nepal and India. In the Hindu calendar it basically marks as a traditional, solstice and ‘harvest’ event. However, depending on the particular village, country or region’s belief, it can vary erratically from being a time to celebrate new fertile crops, fly kites and even ironically, a time celebrate the life of a cows. In Nepal, ceremonies that are conducted during this time can also be considered as bringing an end to an ill omened month when all religious ceremonies are forbidden. Any ‘being’ to die on the first day of Makar Sankranti, can be perceived as giving to a rebirth. Many of these beliefs are so loosely interpreted that it can easily be perceived that sacrificing of animals has evolved to become yet another excuse to barbarically kill animals and umbrella it under religion, so that it can not be contested.

At this year’s ‘Part 2: Sister of Gadhimai Festival’, up to 10,000 animals fell victim to violent beheadings during the blood shed religious event. While most of the animals that were slayed were goats, other animals such as water buffalo and pigeons were also killed. It is noteworthy to mention that it is often misconceived that the number of animals that are sacrificed at these types of events occur only upon the temple grounds themselves. However, on both of the in-depth investigations which ARM conducted, it was witnessed and captured on film, that the brutal and inhumane ceremonies reached far beyond the boundaries of the temple and extended to the border of India and throughout Nepal.

Unlike the Gadhimai’s festival, sacrificing of buffalos is not usually a traditional offering made for Makar Sankranti ceremonies. However this year 60 buffalo were brought by devotees and offered to the Goddess of Gadhimai. Whilst the remainder of the animal sacrifices were conducted publicly and freely in open fields, the ceremonies involving the buffalo were mysteriously restricted from the public and were undertaken inside the temple, behind heavily armed soldiers.

At this particular event, the buffalo were not beheaded but were subjected to one of their ears being cut off as an offering to the Goddess of Gadhimai. Following the buffalo ceremonies, the committee members confiscated the animals with the intentions to sell the animals to a local slaughterhouse at the close of the festival. This also caused a considerable doubt upon the committee members of the Gadhimai Temple, who also claimed that they were not trying to make a profit from any of the religious ceremonies and festivals.

Instead, and in an interesting twist of events, the Animal Welfare Network Nepal (AWNN) battled publicly with the committee to allow the animal rights group to purchase the remaining buffalo so that their lives could be spared from any further harm or slaughter. Mainly due to the a rise in negative attention and global pressure following last year’s Gadhimai festival, the committee members had no choice but to succumb to AWNN. The surviving buffalo were released for a reported fee of $50 USD for each buffalo to the animal rights group.

The buffalo are currently under the care of AWNN. Once the animals have recovered, they will be adopted to new homes and sanctuaries.

This new development demonstrates that there is a positive momentum occurring for the future of animal rights in a country that today has no existing animal protection laws or regulation.

ARM intends to continue it’s investigations on the dire issue of animal sacrifice for religious purposes in Nepal until protection laws and regulation are implemented. ARM is currently composing reports to present it’s hard core evidence to officials, law makers and Government of Nepal in it’s efforts to bring hope and reprieve for the countless animals which fall victim to animal sacrifice brutality every single day.