Sacrificing compassion for barbaric rituals

A reply to Somapala Gunadheera

It is usual for those  speaking against the stopping of animal sacrifice  and animal slaughter, as in the case of Somapala  Gunadheera (SG) in his article  " Making bombs out of butchers’ stocks"  (the  "Sunday Island" of 23.9.2012),   to begin with the pious declaration  that one is  a confirmed vegetarian . He even affirms that he abhors animal slaughter. Believing by this solemn declaration that he has established himself as a person of compassion and ahimsa, he proceeds to fiercely oppose those who are fighting to stop the barbaric practice of animals sacrifice.

 SG goes on to make a mockery of the anti-sacrifice campaign sardonically calling the campaigners "self proclaimed warriors who should understand the futility of their effort unless they ensure that animal slaughter was statutorily banned."   SG needs to come down to earth because he has totally missed the point on the aim of the anti-sacrifice campaign. It is not simply to save the animals marked for sacrifice each year from being slaughtered at the kovil or afterwards at the hands of butchers, but to impress on the people of the country, the local government authorities, the police and even jurists that the cruel and barbaric practice of cruelly slaughtering animals for sacrifice is neither called for by the main religions nor condoned by them and this barbaric practice must be bought to an end.

Hindu leaders, politicians and chief priests of Hindu kovils have made clear statements that animal sacrifice is not a part of Hinduism, the most ancient of world religions, and that cruelty to animals is strongly condemned in the Hindu texts, although there may be Hindus, just as there may be Buddhists and even Christians, who may participate in animal sacrifices at the Bhadra Kali Kovil, which does not involve Hinduism, Buddhism or Christianity.

In India, the birthplace of Hinduism, animal sacrifice is prohibited by law in many states. The laws prohibiting animal sacrifice in these states prohibit any person from sacrificing "any animal or bird in any place of worship or adoration or its precincts or in any congregation or procession connected with any religious worship in a public street." Whoever contravenes this law will be punished with imprisonment up to 3 months, or fine amounting to Rs. 300 or both. (E.g.: Andhra Pradesh - Animals and Birds Sacrifice (Prohibition) Act.)

The Prevention of Cruelty Act (India) states it is not an offence to kill any animal as required by the religion of any community, and must not be based on superstition or belief, and the onus to prove that such killing is required by religion is on the person committing the act. Failing to do so would amount to committing an offence.

 In Sri Lanka, in a background where Hindu religious leaders have condemned animal sacrifice as being against the Hindu religion, SG tries to whip up religious conflict by bringing in the matter of meat consumption associated with Muslim and Christian festivals. As for Christians there is no requirement for ritual killing of animals or birds for any religious festival or as an act of worship. The Muslims, who have animal sacrifice as part of their faith, and not a superstition, have not come into this issue, although SG tries to draw them into it.

In his hardly veiled attempt to retain the practice, SG states that animal slaughter is not an offence under the Penal Code, and therefore, new legislation to ban the practice cannot be based on the basic criminal law of the land.  Does he realize that this would amount to an inability to identify new crimes in society, even though they may be old practices, and take action accordingly? This would certainly require amendment to existing law, in keeping with the Constitution, in a manner that is justiciable; to prevent the allegation of any new law being discriminatory to any party.

Is he stating is that a supreme legislature, such as our parliament, has no power or authority to amend existing law, be it the Penal Code.  It is also relevant to know that provisions of the Penal Code we have is one inherited from the British, and has been amended  in Sri Lanka as well as India.  

SG raises the question of a violation of the criminal law of intimidation in forcing devotees concerned to abandon the practice of animal sacrifice. Such fears are wholly uncalled for because the campaigners against animal sacrifice, whether "cardboard saviours" or not, have been totally peaceful in their action. They have obeyed the police each time they were asked not to demonstrate in a manner that would be provocative. Instead, what they have done is to seek to build public opinion against the practice and also canvass the matter in the courts, which is the most civilized, democratic and peaceful thing to do.

It would show that there is no attempt to intimidate the Hindus today, because the All Ceylon Hindu Congress itself states that animal sacrifice is against Hindu teaching.  It would, therefore, be wrong to presume that it would lead to extending such intimidation to Islam and Christians tomorrow, and would thus not attract the provisions of law against such intimidation. It would appear instead, that SG is himself trying to provoke such "counter force" that would lead to inter-religious conflict.

 SG finally brings in the Buddha himself into this issue, with the story of Chundaka who ran a slaughter house butchering pigs right behind the Jetavanarama monastery at Varanasi, where he resided most of his life. He says the Buddha had not intervened to stop this slaughter although he may have heard the shrieks of the animals being slaughtered. SG has his own theories as to why the Buddha remained silent on this matter. The Buddha preached non-violence to all. He was no law maker. He showed us the path to follow in life, with compassion to all sentient beings. To use this story to justify animal sacrifice is a contemptible and tendentious effort to continue the barbaric practice of animal sacrifice, by seeking to show that the Buddha was not against the slaughter of animals.  

On the matter of rituals and animal sacrifice what the Buddha has said is:           "Rituals have no efficacy. Prayers are vain repetitions and incantations have no saving power. But to abandon covetousness and lust, to become free from evil passions and to give up all hatred and ill will, that is the right sacrifice and true worship." (Gospel of the Buddha - Paul Carus. There are also numerous other references in Buddhist Teaching where the Buddha has condemned animal sacrifice).

SG finally turns to the President for a solution which would help keep this superstitious and barbaric practice going, and shamelessly requests the President to allow animal sacrifice to be held secretly without offending the susceptibilities of their [the practitioners] neighbours.  The secret torture of animals may not offend the concerns of SG, but it would not satisfy those who campaign to save animals from the horrors of sacrificial slaughter. As for the President needing the support or not of "busybodies" on this matter, SG must know that it was the concerted campaign by those, including Buddhist monks,  against barbarism, that led to the Presidential Secretariat issuing a clear statement that "Both in principle and policy the Government is against cruelty to animals that takes place in these ritual sacrifices.

Finally, SG in his anger turns against the campaigners for compassion to animals and directs his plea to a heavenly father stating: "Father forgive them for they know not what they do".  We would well re-direct this plea on behalf of SG, who needs forgiveness for his betrayal of the cause of innocent animals sacrificed for money, favours, blessings and curses. 

Sagarika Rajakarunanayaka

Sathva Mithra

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