Nepal is a really special country to me. My own father was a Gurkha officer and I was proud to be involved in the successful Gurkha Justice campaign, which won right of UK residence for Gurkha veterans, so many of whom fought valiantly for us in the Second World War – and in many other international conflicts since then.
After that campaign, I visited Nepal and was enchanted by the beauty of its land and the warmth of its people. They even said I was a Daughter of Nepal, a distinction I cherish.
I believe that justice and fairness need to be extended to the animal kingdom too. This is why I am so sad to hear that another Gadhimai Festival will be held in Nepal this November. The festival, which is only about 250 years old, takes place every five years. At the last festival, in 2009, it is estimated that around 500,000 water buffaloes, goats and chickens were slaughtered, having their heads severed in a mass sacrificial killing. Families, including young children, came to watch the bloody spectacle.
The sacrificial killing is held to please the goddess Gadhimai, to avert evil and bring prosperity. Animal sacrifice is banned in many Indian states, but people travel from northern India to Nepal with their animals to sacrifice them at the festival.
Although in ancient Vedic times, animal sacrifice was common in India, times have changed – as have religious views. Even by the 8-9th century, the Hindu text, the Bhagavata Purana, said: “Seeing someone about to sacrifice with material offerings, beings are filled with dread, fearing ‘This self-indulgent (human), having no compassion, will slay me'” (Bhagavata Purana, 7.15.10).
Today the majority of Hindus are vegetarian and totally opposed to animal sacrifice. The Hindu Council UK has expressed its opposition to the sacrifice, and Surya Upadhya, chairman of the
Nepalese Hindu Forum in the UK says, “The Nepalese Hindu Forum completely opposes animal sacrifice as Hinduism does not sanction the killing of living beings… There should not be any place for this inhumane, barbaric sacrifice of innocent animals in the name of any religion”.
I know that animal welfare groups in India and Nepal are also working hard to end the festival.
The farm animal welfare charity Compassion In World Farming, of which I am proud to be a Patron, has gathered thousands of signatures on a petition to the Nepalese government, calling on them to halt the festival and to cancel their financial support for it. Do please sign up to this petition!
On Saturday 11 October, I joined with Compassion in World Farming to lobby the Nepalese government representatives in London. Hundreds of people came to support our peaceful protest opposite the Nepalese embassy.
I truly hope that our combined voice of protest will curtail this year’s festival and that Hindus in Nepal and elsewhere can once again be proud of their true tradition of compassion and concern for animals.