Seeking to end sacrifice
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2006:
KOLKATA, CAPE TOWN, LOS ANGELES–Challenging public animal
sacrifice at the Kailghat Temple in Kolkata since 2000,
Compassionate Crusaders Trust founder Debasis Chakrabarti won a
September 15, 2006 verdict from the Calcutta High Court that the
ritual killings may no longer be conducted in open public view.
The 200-year-old Kalighat temple, beside the Hoogly River,
is among the most visited sites of sacrifice to the blood goddess
Kali. Chakrabarti previously tried to persuade devotees that
donating blood to hospital blood drives would be as acceptable to the
Anti-sacrifice demonstrations and the blood drives helped to
reduce the numbers of sacrifices, Chakrabarti told news media.
Moving sacrifice inside the temple walls, Chakrabarti hopes, will
reinforce the message that it is not acceptable in modern India.
But the message and reality are somewhat at odds. Karnataka,
Gujarat, Orissa, Himachal, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh states
prohibit animal sacrifice. Yet sacrifice is exempted from coverage
by the federal Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, in effect since
1960, and the Indian constitution guarantees freedom of religion.
The traditionally lesser educated castes who eat meat and
practice animal sacrifice have had a much higher birth rate in recent
decades than the traditionally better educated vegetarian castes.
Seventy years after the caste system was officially abolished, caste
lines have blurred to the point that lower caste origins are no
longer an obstacle to winning economic and political success, and in
some districts are even an advantage. Vegetarianism is still widely
professed, but the population balance in India has shifted in the
space of a generation from approximately half to less than a third
actually not eating meat.
Animal sacrifice, historically used to dispose of surplus
bull calves and other less productive livestock, may be practiced by
more Hindus today than ever before since Vedic times.
Within two weeks of the Calcutta High Court ruling, as many
as 3,000 animals were reportedly sacrificed at the 341-year-old
Kakakhya temple in Guwahati.
Two hundred were killed at a temple in Satbhaya and 50 at a
temple in Osanagara, both in defiance of the Orissa law. The law
was unlikely to be invoked. Orissa revenue minister Manmohan Samal
in March 2006 suffered only transient embarrassment after reportedly
attending animal sacrifices in Rameswarpur, his home district.
Samal acknowledged visiting the temple, but denied that animals were
killed in his presence.
Animal sacrifice is also increasingly visible in South
Africa, though not necessarily practiced by more people. A dozen
years after the collapse of apartheid and introduction of majority
rule, citiizens of tribal descent are increasingly inclined to
revive cultural traditions, often in conflict with neighbors of
African, European and Asian descent.
The first public example was the 1992 revival of young men
ritually torturing a bull to death at the annual First Fruits
Festival near Nongoma in KwaZulu-Natal, described in the October
2006 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE. Exempted from prosecution as a
religious exercise, the First Fruits Festival was invoked as a
precedent in 2005 when Xhosa medical doctor Manduleli Bikitsha
announced he would sacrifice a cow in his yard in Somerset West, a
Cape Town suburb.
“The bellowing of the dying cow when slaughtered in the Xhosa
ritual is indicative that the ceremony is accepted by ancestors, but
to animal welfare organisations it is cruelty,” explained Myolisi
Gophe of The Cape Argus.
National SPCA inspector Kingstone Sizaba said the Xhosa
belief is “bull and doesn’t hold water. The crying (of the animal) is
a sign of pain and suffering and not a communication with anybody.”
Actual confrontation between the National SPCA and
practitioners of animal sacrifice came in March 2006, after police
officers at the Nyanga Station in Cape Town reportedly killed a goat
and several chickens to ritually cleanse the premises of bad spirits
occasioned by rumors about a human murder. The killing was
“The SPCA laid a complaint,” wrote Humane Education Trust
founder van der Merwe in Animal Voice, the newsletter of the South
African branch of Compassion In World Farming, “but the Directorate
of Public Prosecutions refused to prosecute. However, the incident
was raised in Parlia-ment. Now ritual slaughter is to be regulated.”
Said chair Manie Schoeman at the August 4, 2006
Constitutional Review Committee hearing, “Despite the fact that
there are regulations governing kosher and halaal slaughter, no such
regulations exist regarding ritual slaughter according to African
custom. Twelve years since the advent of democracy, this is an
intolerable situation. The Department of Agriculture is instructed
by this committee to draw up such regulations.”
By contrast, Los Angeles Department of Animal Regulation
chief Ed Boks’ September 27 warning to practitioners of Kapporat
attracted notice partly because few people had ever seen or heard of
it, outside of Hassidic Jewish communities.
Explained Boks’ press release, “Every year for six days
before Yom Kippur (the Jewish Day of Atonement on October 2) some
Jews perform the ritual “Kapporat.” Kapporat is a custom in which the
sins of a person are symbolically transferred to a fowl. The fowl is
held above the person’s head and swung in a circle three times while
certain words are spoken. The fowl is then slaughtered so that the
person may have a good, peaceful life. Sometimes the chickens are
given to the poor as food.
“Nowhere is the practice of Kapp-orat even mentioned in the
Torah,” Boks continued. “It is a pagan tradition that has been
muddled into the religious practices of a small Jewish sect.”
Supporting statements were included from Jewish legal code historian
Rabbi Joseph Caro, former Israeli Chief Rabbi Shiomo Goren, and
Jewish animal advocates Karen Davis, founder of United Poultry
Concerns, and Richard Schwartz, author of Judaism & Vegetarianism.
Despite Boks’ advice that Kapporat might constitute
prosecutable cruelty, it openly continued, with no arrests.
Slaughterhouse designer Temple Grandin in a 1988 landmark
study titled “Behavior of slaughter plant and auction employees
towards animals” used surveys to define the three basic psychological
mechanisms that humans use to cope with killing.
Some people, Grandin found, distance themselves from the
crying animals and any feelings of guilt, often through use of
alcohol or other intoxicants. Some become sadistic. Some ritualize
the proceedings, rationalizing their part with a pretense that
killing is for the greater good.
Each approach can menace social and economic stability.
Thus the progress of civilization itself might be measured by the
success of efforts to restrain slaughter and the behavior associated
with it, a topic of the earliest known legal codes.
Over time, as fewer people actively participate in
slaughter, competitions to capture and kill animals have evolved
into scrambles after footballs. Witnesses drink to celebrate goals,
not kills. Except among some animists and practitioners of voodoo,
the candle placed in a skull to chase ghosts from the doorstep where
animals are slaughtered is now a jack o’lantern pumpkin.
In seeking to transform blood sacrifice into blood donation,
Chakrabarti followed a history of removing slaughtering from ritual
sacrifice, exemplified by substituting monetary offerings for
sacrifice. This was introduced in most branches of Hinduism between
1,500 and 2,300 years ago, and in Judaism more than 500 years before
the first written documentation of Kapporat.
Indeed, the first records of Kapporat were rabbinical
opinions written against it.
Much of the written record pertaining to animal sacrifice in
all major religious traditions describes the efforts of a few of the
best educated faithful to persuade other people to give it up.
Yet animal sacrifice persists, traumatic as ever for the
animal victims and the children for whom watching or participating in
the killing is often a part of cultural initiation.
Defenders of animal sacrifice contend that opponents just do
not understand it.
As a former child guru and as an ordained minister,
respectively, Chakrabarti and Boks understand the importance of
religious ritual in holding societies together.
As founder of the Humane Edu-cation Trust, instrumental in
adding humane education to the national school curriculum in South
Africa, van der Merwe understands the effects of cruelty witnessed
in childhood on adult behavior.
Chakrabarti, Boks, and van der Merwe understand animal
sacrifice. That is precisely why they seek to persuade their
communities to leave it behind.