Monday, October 25, 2010

Sacrificing animals

Every year, around Dashain, festival writings and ranting against animal sacrifice get a lot of coverage in media. From little known animal rights activist groups to amateur writers, many jump into anti-sacrifice bandwagon. As Dashain gets over, the noise dies down, gradually. It is really difficult to understand the real motives behind the dissent. Are these groups or individuals really passionate about animal rights or sponsored by external forces that aim to benefit from the portrayal of Hindu religion and culture in bad light or is it coming from anarchists that see progressiveness as everything that is against established norms and rules? Are these people really vegetarian that value life of other beings as their own or opportunists trying to seek some limelight as and when they can? In a country, where dreams are sold (remember “New Nepal” hoopla?) freely without any fear of being held accountable, being cynical at times is perfectly normal, isn’t it? 

Animal sacrifice is nothing new. It has been happening for centuries and in all the ancient religions of the world. The ritual of animal sacrifice is seen as a means of getting closer to the almighty. From the Hebrews to the Greeks and Romans and from the Aztecs to the Hindus, ritual killing of an animal has been part of a religion. Moral purists, atheists, opportunists, and limelight seekers question whether ritual killing of animals is right just because it has been practiced for generations? Do they have a point? Absolutely. But are they missing a larger picture? You bet!

What they conveniently forget is the objective behind the religious sacrifice. People sacrificing animals are not religious nuts. The objective of sacrifice is to express gratitude to the almighty. They truly and selflessly believe that by offering our life symbolically to the almighty by offering the sacrifice of an animal, they are in fact expressing their gratitude. Are they right? May be, may be not, but again, who are we to question someone else’s belief system? If their belief affords them comfort, they have all the right and freedom to believe in whatever they want to believe in. Besides, it is their constitutional right to practice their religion.

Sacrificing an animal as long as such animal is not endangered and protected by law would be the same as killing a chicken for McDonalds. As far as the method of killing is concerned, what is torture and what is not is again subjective. Some may believe gulping meat while advocating for animal rights to be more primitive, double standard, and culturally damaging than animal sacrifice practice itself. Are they wrong? Depends upon how you see it. Everyone has a different starting point, a different personality and differing degrees of faith. When it comes to beliefs, debating helps but it will eventually reach the "nihilist threshold." People have beliefs that they simply hold to be true for no other reason than trusting them to be right.

Those that make a hue and cry about animal sacrifice in Nepal somehow try to associate animal rights with killings only. Animal rights is not all about how you kill them. Animals like humans do have rights to live in a free environment. Millions of goats that were sacrificed during the recent Dashain must have enjoyed a better life and a less ignominious death than veal calves, geese, and battery hens that that are kept in cages that are little more than the size of a sheet of A4 paper in Western farms. Animal rights are violated everywhere, irrespective of developmental status.

Advocacy has become a lucrative profession in Nepal. The so-called human rights activists that demeaned the state’s right to defend itself against those that initiated violent bloody insurgency have now pigeon-holed themselves. They do not raise voice against the marauding raids of the Maoists, ethnic hustlers, and criminal gangs that have violated the rights of millions of Nepalis to live freely and pursue their dreams. Rights activist in Nepal have tremendously benefited at the cost of the liquidation of the state.

Populism doesn’t bring real change. For real and long lasting change to happen, there has to be a social and economic basis for it. It is important to understand that still approximately half of the population lives below the poverty line and is illiterate. The state, for them, is virtually non-existent. If they had faith in the state, Pushpa Kamal Dahal would not have had recruits to fight against the state, opportunity to parachute to the parliament, and get away even when he crawls to Kamal Thapa’s residence for votes to become the prime minister. Isn’t change, for which, approximately 14,000 people lost their lives and hundreds of thousands got uprooted visible? Nobody seems to be questioning if the promise for change was worth the sacrifice? The never-ending claims from both the extreme left and the right is nothing but the politics of grievances. But we rather take easy way out and question if the sacrifice of animals is worth it?

Animal sacrifice is not a good practice but it is not happening in vacuum. Belief system drives it. Bemoaning it is of little help and stopping it altogether is outright dangerous. When the state fails, religion and faith help. Already there is enough of bloodshed and anarchy in the country and taking off the religious and cultural lid altogether will make things even worse. Change should be gradual and calibrated, only then it is long-lasting. Indicator-less quest for change will be something like that of the current peace process. Nobody knows where it is going except for the United Nations Mission in Nepal. First of all, economic and social basis for change needs to be established. With education, prosperity, and economic development, people may be more willing to explore other ways to please gods and celebrate religious ceremonies. Till then, energy should be spent towards nation-building, not withering the glue that holds it together.

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