Plus - Letter to the Editor

Massacre of the voiceless and shame of a nation

The animal slaughter that took place at the Munneswaram Bhadrakali Amman kovil on August 25 is a national shame.

The slaughter took place despite calls by religious organizations including the Jathika Sangha Sammelanaya and the All Ceylon Hindu Congress, as well as animal welfare organizations to stop it and thereby prevent a repeat performance of the religious barbarity that took place in August last year in the same kovil.

It is indeed a tragedy that in Sri Lanka where Buddhism is given foremost recognition in the Constitution, such brutal killings are permitted to take place. The All Ceylon Hindu Congress has categorically condemned animal sacrifice stating that it is committed by those who do not know about the religion.

A goat being led for slaughter

The Munneswaram slaughter was illegal. It was also against all norms of civilized conduct and humanity. Let’s look at the law first Under the Butchers’ Ordinance it is an offence for any person to carry on the trade of a butcher (defined in the law to include every person that slaughters animals) without a licence. Further, animals can be slaughtered only in public slaughterhouses or other places set up under the law.

Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act any person who cruelly beats, abuses or tortures any animal or causes such acts to be done is guilty of an offence. Local Authority regulations require that no animal be slaughtered in the presence of another animal and until all signs of slaughter of that animal have been removed In the Munneswaram massacre all of the above were violated.

But what did the police do? Instead of arresting those violating the laws, they justified the slaughter stating that it is a custom! And it was the Sangha and others who were engaged in a peaceful procession against animal slaughter on behalf of the voiceless who were nearly arrested for participating in their mission of mercy.

Let’s look at civilization and humanity next. Sri Lanka boasts of a rich animal friendly cultural heritage nurtured and protected by its ancient rulers. Like us humans, animals too fear death and feel pain. But unlike us humans they have no voice or vote.

Being at Munneswaram on the day of the massacre, I saw that enormous fear and utter helplessness on the faces of the goats (including baby goats) and the fowl that were trapped within the kovil grounds, of all places under a sacred Bo tree and also on the faces of those being dragged along the road to their torturous end.

Sacrifice is the offering of something precious, to deity. Those who believe in appeasing the “gods” to gain favours should thus offer something that is really precious to them and not innocent animals for whom they have no affection or concern. Among the multitude of people thronging the kovil to sacrifice animals one could see both Sinhala and Tamil people. Surely there would have been many Buddhists and Hindus among them. Among those watching the gruesome and bloody scenes of animals being chopped to pieces alive were many children. Isn’t that brutalizing a generation?

The people in the area whisper that the slaughter is in fact a flourishing business carried on with the blessings of certain authorities who benefit through the agony of animals. Goat and fowl farms are said to be run by these authorities to provide the sacrificial animals. They are also said to be dealing in the mutton and chicken trade.

Some may say that the ritual of animal sacrifice is a custom. But it is a pity that with the development of the human intellect and knowledge, most humans are still unable to distinguish between civilized and uncivilized conduct. It is also sad that their Compassion Quotient (CQ) is yet at a very low level.

It is time that Sri Lanka took steps to clearly ban ritual animal sacrifice so that no apologist can put forward the argument that custom permits it or millions of innocent animals will continue to be slaughtered in the most brutal manner. There is no better time than now to reform the law - a time when the nation is preparing to commemorate the 2600th Buddha Jayanthi.

Lalani Nawala

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