Pro-animal India pols shift alliances for election
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2004:
NEW DELHI–Former Indian minister for animal welfare Maneka
Gandhi, serving in Parliament as an independent since 1996, on
February 16 joined the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, with her son
Varun Gandhi was reportedly expected to join Prime Minister
Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the campaign trail preliminary to the April
national election. The Hindu quoted “a party leader” as anticipating
that Varun Gandhi would make his debut as a political candidate in
the next election, after gaining behind-the-scenes experience and
making some public speaking appearances on behalf of other candidates
Joining the BJP was rumored to be a precondition for Mrs.
Gandhi possibly being reappointed to head the animal welfare
ministry, which Mrs. Gandhi directed from 1998 until mid-2002. The
ministry has reportedly been troubled ever since by indifferent
leadership, but Mrs. Gandhi told ANIMAL PEOPLE that she was not
“I don’t think they will ever give me that ministry [again],”
Mrs. Gandhi said. “But we have two months before the April
elections. Let’s see.”
Mrs. Gandhi, who founded the national humane organization
People for Animals in 1984, was removed from the ministry after
clashing simultaneously with the Indian biotech industry and
proponents of animal sacrifice.
Often flamboyantly rivaling Mrs. Gandhi for recognition as an
animal advocate, albeit rarely with comparable achievement, Tamil
Nadu state chief minister and former film star Jayalalithaa on
February 20 beat a pre-election retreat from her August 2003 attempt
to enforce the 1950 Tamil Nadu Animal & Bird Sacrifices Prohibition
Jayalalithaa, who uses only one name, had promoted strict
enforcement to halt a scheduled sacrifice of 500 buffalo, on the eve
of regional festivals at which, “Traditionally, animals are
sacrificed on the altars of the deities and the meat is distributed
among friends and relatives in the community as a fulfilment of
vows,” explained Swati Das of the Times of India news network.
“Mass sacrifices were held in defiance of the ban,” Das
continued. “The argument [advanced by proponents of sacrifice] was
that the poor do not have the resources to propitiate the gods with
[vegetarian food offerings] as is done by upper Hindu castes, and
the only compromise is sacrifice.”
This argument overlooks that the cost of presenting a vegetarian
feast is just a fraction of the cost of raising large animals such as
buffalo to slaughter weight. However, supplying the demand for
animals to sacrifice is often used by farmers as a means of
profitably disposing of surplus buffalo bull calves and other animals
who are not otherwise economically productive.
Jayalalithaa herself made no public comment as Tamil Nadu
governor P.S. Ramamohan Rao introduced a bill to repeal the 1950 act.
Mrs. Gandhi and Animal Welfare Board of India vice chair
Chinny Krishna argued that animal sacrifice is also forbidden by the
1960 federal Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the 1972
Wildlife Protection Act. Thus the Tamil Nadu government could in
theory be sued for failure to prosecute practitioners of animal
sacrifice even if the 1950 state act is repealed. However, invoking
the federal legislation against animal sacrifice is legally tricky,
because the Indian constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and
the right of worship tends to trump the constitutional requirement
that citizens have a duty to respect animal welfare.
Animal sacrifice in India “is prevalent in village temples
and is confined to the lower castes among Hindus,” explained the
Deccan Herald. Though practitioners of animal sacrifice are a small
minority in most of India, they are politically potent in some
regions of strategic importance to the Hindu nationalist BJP and
allied parties, including the 88-year-old All India Anna Dravida
Munnetra Kazhagam now led by Jayalalithaa.
The BJP has historically tried to distract tension between
Hindus who sacrifice animals and those who hold sacrifice to be
profane to the spirit of post-Vedic Hinduism by playing up opposition
to cow slaughter, practiced chiefly by Muslims.
This strategy was evident in mid-December 2003 when the BJP
government of Madya Pradesh banned all cow slaughter, while Kali
cultists in Nadia district, West Bengal, killed goats despite
warnings from police, who ultimately did nothing about it.
At least 20,000 cocks, goats, sheep, and buffaloes were
sacrificed at Khairaguda and about a dozen other villages in western
Orissa state during the first five days of 2004. More than 80
villages were expected to send animals for sacrifice to an early
February festival at Bommasmudra in Karnataka state, approximately
coinciding with the Muslim celebration of the Feast of Atonement,
also known as Ramadan.
However, leading Muslim scholars Mufti Habibur Rahman and
Maulina Mehmood Madani urged their followers to sidestep the role of
scapegoat by slaughtering only sheep, goats, and camels, not
Animal Welfare Board of India coordinator Dayanand Swamy then
directed volunteers and 500 police in an apparently successful
blockade of the Bommasmudra sacrificial venue.
“Till evening, not a single animal was sacrificed,”
reported The Hindu.