In earlier years, the Chamar community used to consume the dead buffaloes, but younger members of the community are boycotting the meat this year. Says Dalit activist Manoj Ram: “It’s not just about the meat, but also self respect. Society looks at us with distaste because we eat leftover sacrificed buffalos. We want to stop that.”
Legend has it that the Gadimai Mela started about 200 years ago when a man sacrificed five drops of his own blood to the goddess for a fulfilled wish. Over the years people substituted defenceless animals for human blood.
The temple committee has refused to budge on the practice despite the outrage in Nepal and globally. “We do not sacrifice animals– people come from far away bringing their animals. If they are not able to fulfil their vow, their faith is broken, and we cannot have that,” says Ram Chandra Sah of the temple committee.
The temple’s chief priest Mangal Chaudhary adds that it is not necessary to sacrifice animals. “YOu can just as well sacrifice a coconut, or offer flowers and swets to the goddess,” he says in an interview with Bloodless Gadhimai campagin.
While activists say the festival has brought shame on Nepal, the temple is proud that it has put Gadimai on the world map. Devotees see criticism of the festival as an attack on Hinduism, and accuse western activists of double standards for not being outraged when millions of turkeys are killed at Thanksgiving. Frensh actress Brigitte Bardot and British actress Joanna Lumley have spoken out against it, earning the festival further notice and international criticism.
Read also: Death and the goddess: The world’s biggest ritual slaughter
Yet, the strongest voices against the bloodletting are from Hindus, themselves who say the festival is not an ancient tradition and not deeply rooted in religion. Animal rights activist Pramada Shah says the sacrifices go against religious teachings.
She says: “They are done in the name of religion. But Hinduism does not teach people to torture animals. It is religious malpractice, like sati and untouchability, and we need to reform it. The Supreme Court decision is not enough. We need stronger laws, and an effective awareness campaign among communities who practise it.”