That poaching is an organised crime throughout India and not an impulse decision by some loafer who gets greedy is uncontestable. There are well defined gangs with their own territories. Vehicles, weapons and ammunition are in plenty. So is their protection from the local police who escort them to their destinations. They always have shrieky expensive lawyers, judges in the lower courts. Violence against law enforcement personnel is common. The markets are protected by local politicians and police and the Indian Forest service personnel who are probably the stupidest and most scared people in the country look the other way. In most cases they are not even considered worthy enough to bribe.

I was in Bareilly which forms part of my constituency Aonla, last week. On the way I received an SMS saying that if I was interested in stopping poachers from the jungles of Uttarakhand and Pilibhit/ Lakhimpur next door, I should pack up the huge bird markets in Bareilly. It gave me the details of the four biggest markets. As soon as I reached the Circuit House, I sent for the District Forest Officer, a plump pathetic obsequious creature typical of his tribe in Uttar Pradesh. Three predictable excuses: No birds are being sold; I have no place to keep confiscated birds; These poor people should be allowed to be criminals!! He came to life was when I told him I would ask the Crime Branch to investigate his assets since he was obviously involved with these criminals and scurried off with my team. In two hours they found 600 birds. How many people arrested? None. Why not? Because these were women. The women did not run away. On the contrary, they collected outside the police station and thumped their breasts and wailed till they were driven away. Imagine people being caught with stolen jewellery and TVs who collect before a police station to demand them back – and are driven away instead of being arrested!!!

In Amritsar recently, one of our Delhi socialites whose husband’s family owns the biggest medicine empire was caught with a suitcase of Shahtoosh shawls which she was taking for sale to London. Since she is Sikh and well connected, she immediately called upon Punjab politicians to get her off the hook which they did. She does this regularly. So does the millionaire mother of the ex- high flying cricket entrepreneur. In fact most of the wildlife smuggling that is done by airline passengers is done by women. According to the research done by CITES, international organised gangs use persons of “high political or social status” as their smugglers. CITES also says that the smugglers usually have previous convictions for other types of crime – both these women have been accused of crimes ranging from arson to insurance frauds and members of their family are regularly accused of tax fraud. Unfortunately they always get away and are welcomed back into the social circle. Thai Customs officials regularly catch high society women. Last month they caught two women dealers with ivory items worth millions disguised as toys and gifts. Last week a live tiger cub was found drugged and hidden among stuffed-tiger toys in the over sized luggage of a woman at Bangkok's airport. 

Delhi has a woman called Moti who sits in Jama Masjid and sells every known form of wildlife article from birds to tigers. We have had her arrested more than 30 times. She is out the next day on bail – beating even the record of the notorious tiger skin smuggler Sansar Chand who is represented by the best lawyers. Why is she released? Because she is a woman. The fact that she is the face of a 300 member gang who bring in birds, snakes, cat claws, scorpions, mongooses etc. is irrelevant. She has never even been interrogated so her gang roams free.

When I caught the monitor lizard oil dealers in Badaun it was the women who had brought the lizards in from Rajasthan. When I stopped the buses from Pilibhit to inspect the luggage on the roof, it was women bringing in birds to Delhi. When we rounded the bird catching Bahelias in Pilibhit, we found their women running dhabas using servants (so much for how poor they are) and selling wild animal parts like leopard skins and live birds to truckers to take on to the cities. 

In all the tribes that are doing nothing but poaching in India: the Bawarias who move as a family and are organised big cat hunters who operate in and around wildlife sanctuaries, the nomadic Pardhiis, the Narikauravas of South India who steal squirrels and domestic cats as well, the Kela tribes of Orissa who poach monitor lizards and sell their skins to the music industry … the women are partners in crime. If you see women selling cheap jewellery in temporary shops anywhere near a forest or sanctuary, you can be sure this is a hunting party whose men are already in the kill zone laying out their traps. At midnight the women and children will move in, after the forest guards are drunk and asleep (if they ever got up at all) and by late morning the animal is dead, skinned, the parts separated and the women and children are in the train to give them to the exporter who will send them on to China. These tribes kill leopards, bears and elephants for ivory, indulge in organised theft of railways and telecom properties, are into sandalwood smuggling while some do contract murders.

Women have long past the time when all they were caught for was prostitution or the murder of a spouse. Now, according to all studies on women criminals they are involved in everything from robberies to murder, drug smuggling, bomb making and gun running, wood smuggling to wildlife crime. According to a report in Uttar Pradesh’s prominent Hindi Daily ”Dainik Jagaran” on July 02, 2009 “Zaraim Ki Duniya Mein Mahilayein Bhi Kam Nahi Hai” (Women are as prominent in the world of crime ) female gangs operate in the trains by drugging railway passengers and then looting their possessions.

Police say that women voluntarily enter into crime for the money since most of them belong to families having a criminal background and find nothing wrong in their way of life. This, I have seen, applies to all the women in the wildlife trade. 

Most police people refuse to recognise women in the wildlife trade as criminals and so they are never arrested or, if arrested under pressure from people like me, they are never remanded to custody. Our police need to understand that these women are habitual offenders and if let off today, will be back selling birds on the street the next day. They should be arrested is because they will destroy the evidence and they will warn their men who are still free. They should be arrested because they will abscond. 

The police claim that arresting women is a nuisance as they bring their children with them, they have to all be fed, care has to be taken that female constables are around so that these women do not claim they have been raped, molested or abused. Searches of women can only be made by other women. Women police officers have to be associated where women are being arrested and no arrests of women between sunset and sunrise can be done. They have to be put in a separate lockup from the men. They have to be given free legal aid and a female requesting for medical help should be examined only by a female registered medical practitioner. They can only be interrogated by women.

So what? None of this is impossible to do. The women should be interrogated as they are the key to all the gangs. Interrogation must be consistent with the recognised rights to life, dignity and right against torture and degrading treatment. The women must be produced before the appropriate court within 24 hours of the arrest. But that does not mean that the police do not ask for remand. Crime is crime — irrespective of gender.

When will wildlife crime become a law enforcement priority? Banks and jewellery are covered by insurances and money stolen can be replaced. But once the leopard and owl is poached, it is gone forever. The illegal killing, the cross-border smuggling and the trade in natural resources bring profits that greatly exceed those acquired by criminals engaged in trafficking narcotics, humans or firearms. Every year, law enforcement officials combating such crimes lose their lives. Yet illegal activities targeting fauna and flora continue to be seen as petty misdemeanours. 

Maneka Gandhi

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This article is my offering of love to that creature which is taken at night, thrown on top of hundreds of her kind, made to travel hundreds of miles, pulled out from the truck by her tail as her legs have broken and then, as she lies there helplessly, she is stabbed repeatedly and killed. Your breakfast is from her sore and bruised teats. Your shoes are made from her dead body. Our government’s boasts that it is the largest exporter of leather in the world and the second largest producer of milk. All this from this cow who is mute, walks slowly, endures pain with dignity and gentleness, does not kick, cries soundlessly when we kill her calf in front of her and when we hang her upside down and tear her flesh off while she is alive. 

What has happened to the spirit of India? When did our national character shift from wanting the beautiful, gentle and wise cow as our national symbol to the tiger? Is it because we are ashamed that we have wiped out the tiger population? But we have almost wiped out the cow population as well. An animal that gives birth once a year for four years only and whose sons are killed immediately, can she survive the leather industry, the illegal export oriented slaughterhouses and the smuggling of one crore of her kind annually to Bangladesh? No, a survey of one constituency of 25 lakh in Andhra Pradesh people found less than 1200 cows.

The cow was considered so much the epitome of excellence of character and beauty that many of our names, and those of the gods are based on her. I do not know whether any names in any other religion are based on animals but the Hindus have dozens of names based on the cow: Here are some common ones: Gauri (as beautiful as the cow) , Gaurang / Gaurangi (cow coloured), Gopi (cowherdess), Gauhar (cow coloured) Gaurava: cow voiced, another word for glory, Gautam/ Gautami (comes from Gau Uttama, the best cow/ox). It is not a coincidence that the Buddha’s name was Gautama. Nandin is the bull of Shiva and his name means both son and delightful. Gavendra or bull is another name for Vishnu. Gauri is the wife of Shiva and Mount Everest is called Gaurishankar . The famous Gorkhas of Nepal, the military force that the British and the Indian armies boast of are a short form of Gorak?h meaning protectors of cows. 

It is not a coincidence that Krishna the best loved incarnation of Vishnu is a cowherd. Gopala (one who looks after cows) Govardhana (cow increaser) are his most common names. He proclaims: "The piety that comes from bathing at holy places, the piety that comes from feeding Brahmins, the piety that comes from giving generous charity, the piety that comes from serving Lord Hari, and the piety that comes from all vows and fasts, all austerities, circumambulating the earth, and speaking truthfully, as well as all the devas, always stay in the bodies of the cows. The holy places always stay in the cows' hooves. O father, Goddess Lakshmi always stays in the cows' hearts. A person that wears tilaka of mud that touched a cow's hoof attains the result of bathing in a holy place. He is fearless at every step. A place where cows stay is holy. One who dies there is at once liberated. One who harms a cow is the lowest of men. He commits a great sin, as if he had killed a Brahmin. Of this there is no doubt. A person who harms the cows, who are the limbs of Lord Narayana, goes to hell for as long as the sun and moon shine in the sky." 

How many rivers are linked to the cow? Gomati (with the mind of a cow) river is a tributary of the Ganges River. According to Hindu mythology the river is the daughter of Sage Vashist, and bathing in the waters of the Gomati on a certain day can wash away one's sins. The Godavari (bestowing prosperity) river has pilgrimage centers on its banks.

How many states and cities are named for the cow? Offhand - Gopalpur and Gopalganj, Guwahati, Gotegaon, Gondhia, Goregaon, Gonda, Gokarna, Kovvur which comes from Govuru meaning cow town. The state of Goa is a short form of Gomantak (rich in herds). Gorakhpur are named after a renowned ascetic saint, Gorakshanath meaning ‘cow protector’. Godhra in Gujarat means the land of the cow. Even the gotra or family name is derived from the word ‘go’. Gotra means cowpen, within which the family lived with its cattle. 

The cow is in the Vedas as a symbol of wealth and light. Aditi, the supreme force of Nature, is described as a cow, and the supreme soul as a bull. Vyasa said: “Cows are sacred. They are embodiments of merit. Other scriptures identify the cow as the "mother" of all civilization.

Mahatma Gandhi said: "I worship the cow and I shall defend its worship against the whole world," and that, "The central fact of Hinduism is cow protection." He called her "the mother to millions of Indians”.

Other mythologies have fairies and genii to grant wishes. We have Surabhi meaning sweet smelling, agreeable, shining, pleasing, good, beautiful, beloved, wise and virtuous. She is the fabulous cow of the gods, the daughter of Daksha, wife of Kashyapa and mother of Kamadhenu, the wish fulfilling cow. She is formed from a syllable of Brahma and her daughters Surupa (beautiful), Hansika (graceful), Subhadra (auspicious) and Sarvakamadugha (fulfiller of desires) are protectors of the Earth. 

By her docile, tolerant nature, the cow exemplifies the basic virtue of Hinduism, noninjury, known as ahimsa. In the Vedas, cows represent wealth and joyous life. From the Rig Veda (4.28.1;6) we read. 'The cows have come and have brought us good fortune. Rejoice our homestead with pleasant lowing. In our assemblies we laud your vigor."

In their Dharmasutras, Vasishta, Gautama and Apastambha prohibit eating the flesh of both cows and draught oxen, while Baudhya-yana exacts penances for killing a cow, or ox. Again and again the Vedas emphasize:

Atharva Veda III.30.1 You should impart love to each other as the non-killable cow does for its calf.
RgVeda VIII.101.15 Cow is pure, do not kill it.
Yajur Veda XIII.49 Do not kill the cow.
RgVeda VI.28.3 Enemy may not use any "astra" i.e. weapon on cows
RgVeda VI.28.4 Nobody should take them to butcher house to kill them
Mahabharata- Shantiparva 262.47 Cow is called 'aghnya' non-killable

The Indian rebellion of 1857, the forerunner of the Independence movement started with popular anger that bullets were being greased by the British with cow fat. Thousands of Indians died rather than tolerate this. The term sacred cow has passed into the English language to mean an object or practice which is considered immune from criticism and to be treated with respect. 

The term now has no meaning: cow slaughter is banned except in two states: West Bengal and Kerala. But they have no cows of their own. Thousands of cows are sent there from other states to be killed. Mumbai slaughterhouse Deonar kills them illegally in the lakhs. So does Idgah in Delhi. There are 30,000 illegal slaughterhouses stretched across India, which kill them with impunity, paying the Hindu police money to do so. Our government trains carry them openly to Bangladesh slaughterhouses.

What kind of Hinduism is this that violates its most profound tenet? It is not going to mandirs that makes one a Hindu. It is how you live your life within its dharma. When the last cow has gone, the last Hindu will have gone too.
 
Maneka Gandhi

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Who does not love a bargain – buy one, get one free? Here is a great bargain that has escaped the eye of fish eaters. For every fish you eat, you get a couple of worms as well which stay alive long after the fish is dead. 

How serious is the problem of worms in fish? An international standard, Codex Alimentarius, allows a maximum of 5 worms of more than 1 cm in length in 1 kg of fish. Why is there no warning on fish? Would you buy fish if it had a warning on it about worms? 

The most common are roundworms, tapeworms and flukes.

Roundworms are of the Anisakis family. Anisakis simplex or herring worm is found in all warm water fish like herrings, mackerels and whitings and a large number of coldwater fish as well. It is found in all nearshore fish. It grows up to 2 cm long , is almost colourless, and is found tightly coiled and encased in the guts and flesh.
Rhexanella verrucosa is a hooked worm that attaches itself to the tongue of the fish and helps itself to whatever the host fish eats. 

The Phocanema worm or codworm grows up to 4 cm long and varies in colour from creamy white to dark brown. It curls up and encases itself in a sac-like membrane produced by fish tissue. Most fillets( boneless pieces) , specially mackerel fillets are infested with these skinny milky colour see-through one inch long coiled worms. 

The fish eater can pull the large ones out – if you are watching out for them. But if you buy them from on ice they stay tightly coiled within the flesh of the fish so you only see the red or black pinhead on the body of the fish. Anisakis larvae are resistant to salting. So are anchor worms which are thread-like worms that attach themselves to the head of the fish. Never pull out the worms using force, since the head of the worm will stay attached to the head of the fish and grow a new body. 

The fish industry does not deny that there are worms in fish. They claim that they are harmless if eaten ( after all , if you can survive the mercury and the human feces in fish , then what are a couple of worms ?) as long as the fish is cooked. But there have been many cases reported in which worms – anisakids – have been found wriggling around in fish that have been microwaved. When there are worms in the fish, it is also likely there are eggs, too. They withstand heat better than mature worms so are more likely to be ingested while still viable. Roundworms in ?sh may be found in muscle tissues, in internal organs, or in the intestinal tract. When chilled, they stay tightly coiled within the flesh of the fish. As they warm up, they come wriggling out to be seen. 
Another typical fish parasite is the fish tapeworm. It can live many years in the intestines. There is a worm called giant stomach worm (Hirudinella ventricosa) which can grow to longer than a man’s hand. Freshwater fish like trout and salmon may carry tapeworm larvae. These are small, whitish, and somewhat flabby worms that can live in the human intestinal tract for several years. Symptoms can include abdominal pain, weakness, weight loss and anemia.  

Flukes are among the largest groups of parasites affecting marine ?shes. Flukes are similar in shape to tapeworms, but are shorter and broader. Some ?ukes are enveloped in cysts and can be seen only through a microscope. The dark pigments that occasionally appear around these cysts can be seen with the naked eye and is referred to as “black spot disease.” 

Flatworms are transparent when alive, but turn white when they die: Heavy infections cause irritability, and anorexia. Gill flukes are brown , thin flatworms that look like tiny blobs and feed on blood. Infections can cause emaciation, lethargy and anaemia. Sea-lice scuttle around on the surface of the fish and can cause irritation and anaemia in heavy infections. All these can be removed from the fish by using hydrogen peroxide but to dip your fish in that and then eat it would cause its own problems.

What are the effects on human beings. Anisakiasis is a parasitic infection of the gastrointestinal tract which causes stomach flu like symptoms and permanent allergic reactions to chemicals left by the worms in fish flesh. The symptoms of these disease are : Within hours after ingestion of infective larvae, violent abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting may occur. Occasionally the larvae are coughed up. If the larvae pass into the bowel, a severe allergic response may also occur 1 to 2 weeks following infection, causing symptoms mimicking Crohn's disease. Acute allergic manifestations such as urticaria(rash) and anaphylaxis (shortness of breath)may occur with or without gastrointestinal symptoms. Asthma, conjunctivitis, and contact dermatitis have been observed in fish processing workers who come into contact with live worms. In some cases infection can lead to small bowel obstruction, which may require surgery. 

Codworms are particularly common in white fish , cod, haddock, flounder, sole, and halibut, swordfish and monkfish. If you examine tuna you will probably see wriggling, very narrow pink worms. Deep sea fish like salmon have dark coiled worms . Frozen flounder fillets have little circles on them with a small reddish string in the center of the circle which unwinds and moves out of the circle. In shrimps , the parasites are too small to see but all fish ranging from sardines to squid ,cuttlefish and sharks have them. Warmwater fish that typically harbor parasites are mackerel, sea trout, shrimp, and eel, amberjack., catfish large saltwater fish. Worms appear like thin white strings. The most common fish to be infected with tapeworm are salmon, pike, perch, lake trout, grayling, orange roughy, and turbot. If you see spots in the muscle, those are worms. German television recently did a s series on worms in supermarket fish. They showed worm larvae in the bellies and flesh, as well as live ones in jars of pickled herring in the supermarket . 

If you eat lightly cooked fish – sushi or sashimi - you probably will swallow live worms. The only way to reduce the numbers of worms is to inspect the fish . Visual inspection of fillets will reveal worms embedded near the surface; these can be removed easily with a knife. Worms embedded deep in the flesh are not immediately obvious, but some can be detected by candling, that is, shining a bright light through the meat. Worms show up as dark shadows in the flesh, and can be removed with forceps or a knife.  

Happy eating!

Maneka Gandhi

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How many Indians abroad work for animals in the countries they live in ? I was in Chicago fifteen years ago at a 6000 strong Jain convention. All rich, all educated. I was there to lecture about animal welfare but when I arrived I realized that this was basically a marriage mela. At the beginning of my speech to this group I asked how many were vegetarian – a sea of hands went up. I asked how many were members of PETA , about 30 hands went up. I asked how many donated to animal welfare organizations , 7 hands rose. When I asked how many volunteered at animal shelters or in the wildlife protection movement , not one hand came up. I knew I was in trouble. Sure enough, the donations I collected for the hospitals in India was less than $ 500. The organizers collected 6.5 million dollars for a new temple , to be built inscribing the names of the donors.

I thought I would write today about the foreigners that I have seen work for animals in India . 

I was 18 and newly married when I met Crystal Rogers, an old English woman who was migrating to Australia , stopped in India for a day, saw a horse with its eye out of its socket and decided to stay on. She had no money so she lived in the shack of a Christian graveyard in Delhi . My husband gave her 3 acres and she put up kennels and barns. She called her organisation Animals Friend. According to Indian law she had to have Indians on the board. She chose unwisely and these wretched people took away the shelter from her as soon as the land became valuable and use it till today for renting for marriages and melas. She shifted to Jaipur with no money, got in touch with the Rajmata Jaipur who gave her stables which she redid by singing in schools and collecting money. As soon as the stables looked good, the Rajmata took them back and gave them to Mother Teresa. Crystal , arthritic, almost blind, 85 years old, moved to Bangalore in 1991 , discovered 3 lovely young girls and made an organisation called CUPA ( Compassion Unlimited Plus Action) which now runs the main shelter in Karnataka and does an amazing amount of good work. 

Belinda Wright was born in India where her parents ran the Calcutta Royal Turf Club. They were wildlife conservation people , far ahead of their time . Belinda's mother Anne Wright helped set up World Wide Fund for Nature(WWF) India in the late 1960s. She was a member of the Tiger Task Force that was commissioned by Mrs. Indira Gandhi to select nine tiger reserves for the launch of Project Tiger in 1973. Belinda just sent me a picture of Sanjay and me at the Palamau tiger reserve which we inaugurated in the 70s. Belinda is one of India 's leading wildlife conservationists and In 1994, she founded the Wildlife Protection Society of India to provide support and information to combat poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. She spent 3 months undercover in Tibet documenting the tigerskin trade there.  

Christine and Jeremy Townend came to India in their 50s. She was the founder of the animal liberation movement in Australia and simply got fed up with a meat eating, insensitive society. In 1990 she started 'Help in Suffering' in Jaipur and was the first person to start the sterilization of dogs. It is due to her that Jaipur became the first rabies free city in India . It is now run by the Englishman Dr Jack Reece who has been here for 15 years and does incredible work. Christine and Jeremy went back to Australia two years ago. 

 Clementein Pauws is a Belgian who came to India with a disabled husband and son originally as a disciple of Sathya Sai Baba. She has set up an excellent animal rescue centre in Anantapur which she runs with her pension- she is in her late sixties. She is an excellent , robust no nonsense woman who rescues animals from morning to night and is always being harassed by local officials because she is the only foreigner who goes out to stop cows from going to illegal slaughter as well. At the moment she has a broken arm. 

An American couple called James Myers and Erika Abrams came to India as tourists, and stayed on in 1993 in a village in Udaipur . They founded Animal Aid Unlimited, an animal care center which rescues animals. They are an enthusiastic couple who have a lovely daughter called Claire who speaks perfect Hindi and works with her parents to raise funds, recruit volunteers and deliver talks on compassion for animals at schools as a way of involving children to help street animals. They were initially gypped of all their money and ambulance by an Indian on the Board. Unfortunately this has happened in every case where foreigners have put in their money and had to nominate Indians on the board. 

It happened to meet a gentle young woman Rachel Wright who sold her house in England and has moved to Pushkar to start TOLFA – Tree of Life. As soon as she made her shelter, the Indian woman on the Board tried to take the land forcibly to live there. I had to intervene. She does a lot of rescues , dog sterilization and looks after camels.

Avis Lyons , a feisty English woman started the first animal shelter in Kerala when she visited India after retirement in 2000 and decided to settle down here . She set up ARK and runs a good hospital/ rescue centre which was financed by selling her house in England . She took pictures of illegal killing by the municipality, complained to the police about them. They went after her with a vengeance, and put false criminal cases on this little old woman. She is now abroad struggling with cancer but the shelter is still being run by her daughter. Penny Shepherd is another retiree who has just started animal rescue work in Cochin Kerala by making an organisation called Mad Dogs Trust.

John Hicks was born in a very poor family. As a teenager he looked after an even poorer single woman living in a council flat in England . She died and left him millions ! He is mad about animals and made International Animal Rescue and shifted to Goa to run its best animal animal shelter. He is now in his sixties and it is because of his and his lawyer Alan’s money that we have been able to take away all the dancing bears from the Indian streets. 

There are so many others: Bonny Shah was an American married to an Indian. She exported clothes to America and funded a donkey sanctuary in Sholapur . Adriana Ferranti, an Italian Buddhist nun who lives in Bihar and looks after people and animals. The fearless and outspoken Canadian Lisa Warden who has just been driven out by the Gujarat state government because she caught the Ahmedabad municipality killing animals illegally.

India owes a big debt to these selfless missionaries. I have known all of them and I admire how they put themselves to great risk and discomfort simply to save as many animals as they can. If anyone has imbibed the true nature of Hinduism, it is these foreigners. 
 
Maneka Gandhi

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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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