Dashain is a time of the year when large numbers of animals are sacrificed. Hindus believe that sacrificing animals to Goddess Durga brings them prosperity and happiness. The sacrificed animals include goats, ducks, chicken and sometimes buffaloes. Though sacrificing animals has become a part of Nepali culture, there are some inhuman sides to it.
Despite being a member of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), an organization which promotes animal welfare, Nepal has no animal welfare law of its own. So, in a way, animal sacrifice is legally practiced in Nepal. Whether animals should be sacrificed or not may be a part of separate ethical debate. But as a country that values religious traditions, animal sacrifice is likely to continue for many years to come.
There is more than one method to sacrifice animals, but the most common is Jhatka, a method also practiced by some Sikh societies in India, where animals are beheaded in one blow. This is in contrast to the slaughtering practice of the Muslims and Jews, where animals are slaughtered by cutting their throat. In Jhaka, the knife used to behead the animals should be sharp and heavy and the person doing the job should be very efficient. On the surface the Jhatka method has some advantages (though there is really no advantage in killing animals). For one, it allows animals to die without much pain.
It is also a method to euthanize rats in biomedical laboratories in Europe and America. Francis Crick, the famous scientist and Nobel laureate, who pioneered the study of consciousness, holds that brain controls everything. And when we chop off the head of animals, there is nothing left for the animals to be conscious about. However, a popular study carried out by the Radbound University in the Netherlands has found out that some electrical activities continue in the animal brain after they are beheaded. By implication, it says that even after beheading, animals can feel pain.
It should be pointed out that in all religious slaughters the animals are not stunned prior to being killed. This raises several concerns. One of the main concerns is that animals may be conscious of its pain during and after the beheading. I believe most Nepalis would not mind eating animals that are stunned prior to slaughtering. Stunning them is not prohibited by religion either. Apparently, some slaughterhouses in Nepal practice stunning, whey they do by hammering at the animals’ heads. Again, it calls for great efficiency to stun animals in one blow. But as most animals in Nepal are slaughtered in temples, local butcher shops and in individual houses, stunning is rarely adopted.
What is particularly alarming for animal welfare activists is the way animals are handled during the religious sacrifices. Temple Grandin, a world famous animal welfare scientist, has suggested several criteria for handling animals before and during slaughter. She recommends, among other things, to keep in mind the animal’s behavioural repertoire. Animals, she states, are generally afraid of things in their surroundings as they are taken for slaughtering rather than the fear of death itself. The scary things include shadowy objects, loud and sudden noises, strange objects and darkness. Thus the slaughter site needs to be managed with great care.
The saddest part is that hardly any data is available on conditions of animals before slaughter—such as whether they have been properly fed and how long they were made to travel before they arrived in the slaughterhouse. This calls for further research in the field of animal welfare in Nepal.
What can be said with certainty is that large numbers of animals are slaughtered during religious festivals in Nepal. Temples of Goddess Durga witness hundreds of animal slaughters during Navaratri. Even greater numbers of animals are slaughtered during the infamous Gadhimai festival. But there has been next to no concern about animal welfare during the slaughter.
If we observe slaughter practices in our temples, we see animals being manhandled and beheaded without any apparent concern about their capacity to endure the pain. We can hear them bleat in protest and cry out for help. Worse still, it is usually untrained and unprofessional people who perform slaughters, which causes even more sufferings to the animals. Thus, if we want to make slaughter practices in Nepal more humane, the country urgently needs a regulatory body for animal slaughter. Improper slaughtering of animals is not only harmful to animals but it can also be detrimental to human health. When animals are slaughtered haphazardly, it poses great risk to public health.
In developing countries like Nepal where people have individual farms where they maintain few animals for self-consumption, the kind of regulation that is applicable to slaughterhouses may not be enforceable in private settings. This is the reason the best way forward for countries like Nepal is to educate and train people how to slaughter animals properly. Traditionally, animal slaughter has been carried out in Nepal by a select group of people known as ‘Kasai.’ If they were brought under one umbrella and trained on humane slaughtering methods, it would allow hundreds of animals to die without prolonged pain and suffering