“There is no justification for this mass killing, and it is truly heartbreaking to witness,” said Tanuja Basnet, director of the Nepal unit of Humane Society International, in a release that also called on Nepal’s government to introduce a law banning animal sacrifice.
In 2016, Nepal’s Supreme Court said the practice should be prohibited, and it called on the government to frame a law that would gradually bring an end to the sacrifices.
Rajan Nepal, an official with Nepal’s Tourism and Culture Ministry, said the government has begun to implement the court directive.
“We’ve issued public appeals and consulted with stakeholders in the temple area. It is related with tradition and cannot be halted immediately,” he said.
“The sacrifices have begun today … We had tried not to support it but people have faith in the tradition and have come here with their offerings,” said Birendra Prasad Yadav from the festival organising committee.
Devotees believe the sacrifice, meant to appease Gadhimai – an avatar of the Hindu goddess of power, Kali – brings them luck and prosperity.
According to legend, the first sacrifices in Bariyarpur were conducted several centuries ago when goddess Gadhimai appeared to a prisoner in a dream and asked him to establish a temple to her.
Authorities deployed 1,100 police to prevent clashes between activists and devotees at the site 10km from the Indian border.
“We can only try and convince devotees not to sacrifice the animals, but cannot force them to stop,” said Bikash Khanal, the head of district police in Bara.
Khanal said fewer animals were sacrificed this year compared with five years ago due to awareness campaigns.
An estimated 200,000 animals ranging from goats to rats were butchered during the last two-day Gadhimai Festival in 2014.
The heads of the sacrificed animals are buried in huge pits and hides and skins are often sold to traders. Some of the local communities also take the dead animals away for meat.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse