I have just returned from a four day trip to the Himalayas in Uttarakhand , a district called Pauri Garhwal. It was my first serious trip to the mountains and I went round and round, past dozens of minor landslides and road collapses to the villages where the meetings had been set up. 
Uttarakhand has been on my radar for several years now. There are a few states in India where animal sacrifice still continues and this is one of them. The way the administration and animal welfare people deal with it is self defeating: they descend on the village on the day of the sacrifice, when the men have been drinking and chewing tobacco and bhang the whole night and the women have been wailing to the goddess and blood lust is high. Then when they attempt to take away the animals, there are pitched battles on the street and the animal is hit so many times by so many people in an attempt to kill it before the police take it away that the lane is full of blood. Last year when the police drove away the baby buffaloes from the site of the temple , their killers took them , tied stones on them and drowned them in the river below with the explanation that since they had already been consecrated to the Goddess it was bad luck to let them live.
I have never attempted to stop animal sacrifice in Uttarakhand because I did not feel I had any backup. But my plan has always been that we divide the state into its 95 blocks and have meetings with the village heads, the schoolteachers and the persistent sacrificers and talk them out of it much before Dussehra and the killing season starts. We could not do this because the local politicians have, strangely, always been afraid of losing votes – even though animal sacrifice has never been an election issue. 
Anyway, everything finally came together. We have a state Home Secretary and a Panchayat Raj Secretary who are both committed to welfare and passionate about cruelty. We have a commissioner of Pauri Garhwal who has worked with me briefly and a deputy commissioner who is a hardworking young man prepared to take orders. The local police are fed up with the sacrifices and with violent confrontations. And the animal welfare movement is growing across the hills. 
So we held the meetings. We showed a film which had three men beating a buffalo to death before cutting her neck. Swami Ramdev gave an extremely lucid and passionate appeal asking for the sacrifices to stop because they were not sanctioned by any Hindu scriptures. I talked about the monetary reasons behind their continuance – the meat and alcohol money that came to the priests, the denigration of women. The administration people talked about the effect it had on law and order and the fact that the killers of the animals were not usually even local residents but people who sent money from Mumbai and Delhi to have animal slaughtered in their names. The Panchayati Raj secretary is a doctor himself and he talked about the effect beating had on animals and the subsequent poisonous meat distributed as prasad. Then came the objections – and strangely these were mainly from members of Hindu organizations and from people who actually sell the animals for killing.
These were the objections and I repeat them because the human mind never ceases to fascinate me – we can find a reason for everything we want to do.
a) The Muslims are allowed to kill – why can’t we?
I answered this. If you want to be a Muslim no one is stopping you but you can’t pervert Hinduism into a pale shadow of Islam. In any case, we are here to inform you about laws: Muslims have legal and religious sanction to kill. You do not. According to their religion they are supposed to sacrifice to God, that which they love the most. They have perverted that into buying and killing goats on Bakr Id. Do you love these buffaloes and goats as children that you beat them and kill them? 
b) We made a promise that if our sons were not killed in the Kargil war , we would sacrifice animals.
Your sons were saved and you kill someone else’s sons? How many people died in Kargil. Approximately 1700 out of 250,000 men at war. Were the others also saved by animal sacrifice promises? 
c) Someone who refused to sacrifice had a death in his family a year later.
So, all those who killed an animal have had no deaths in the family or sicknesses? 
d) (This was the most amazing) We have no use for baby male buffaloes so what should we do with them? 
So you offer the goddess something you have no use for ? Why not give her old shoes or empty your dustbins out in the temple? Should you not be giving her things you have value for : love, flowers , vegetables, promises to do better as human beings rather than the blood, feces, urine and lament of a dying animal ? 
e) If there is no Devi at these sacrifices, how is it that several women have the Devi enter them and they drink the blood.
They are probably women who have no power in their homes, have husbands who beat them and this is their way of safeguarding themselves for the rest of the year. I gave them the example of a rich Punjabi widow in Pilibhit who mysteriously turns into a Muslim Pir every Thursday and people, specially Hindus, flock to her to get general predictions. I asked her why she does this and after the initial denials she relaxed and said that she had holdings of several hundred acres to guard – what else could she do.  
The villagers looked unconvinced until the goddess herself came to my rescue: an emaciated old woman went into a hysterical spasm, claimed the devi had entered her and we saw her shake and ululate for several minutes until the women policemen threatened to throw her out and she became normal immediately. She showed the villagers by example what I was talking about.
The result has been that the younger people of the blocks that we went to, have decided not to allow the sacrifices this year. The deputy collector has promised to finish the sacrifices in the entire Pauri Garhwal area by turning each killing mela into a cultural event of singers and dancers. My next round is to Kumaon. May the Goddess bless this endeavour! 
- Maneka Gandhi 
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