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Animal sacrifice: a corrective

WITH REFERENCE to Manikam Ramaswami's article "Should we ban animal sacrifice in temples?" (Open Page, September 9), the matter has to be put in a broader, more humane perspective transcending ritualistic religion or sacred scriptures.

Hinduism is supposed to be a way of life. It is possible to link virtually every practice and belief to religion. Where do we draw the line between religion and social practice? Is it to be left exclusively to those few who can read and interpret ancient Sanskrit texts or to be decided by collective social thinking informed by modern humanistic values?

I am sure that millions of Hindus once believed (hopefully not now!) that sati was a religiously ordained act and would take the victim straight to heaven. Even now we read now and then about cases of children being sacrificed before undertaking construction work, and there was this case of children being temporarily buried alive in Madurai district purely as a religious belief. Is it true religion or civilised social norm to brush all these aside, even justify them, as normal examples of `non-satvic' worship sanctified by Lord Krishna, or to say that as long as these are done in a predominantly non-satvic social context it is all right? Are we supposed to take a vote and decide every time to see whether the non-satvics or the satvics have a current majority? Is active propagation of such non-satvic practices desirable (as propagation of one's religion is a fundamental right under our Constitution)?

Not essential for survival

It is possible, especially in our country, that other religions have equally reprehensible practices and the government conveniently ignores them. What needs to be done is to mobilise opinion in favour of action to check reprehensible practices irrespective of which religion it is and not to defend such practices merely because others are doing it. Why not lead all other religions in eliminating such practices and strengthen our moral right to demand such action elsewhere? Could Raja Rammohan Roy have fought against sati and child marriage if he had taken the stand that it should be done after the Christian and Muslim rituals and laws were reformed?

A comparison is often made between animal sacrifice and non-vegetarianism. This is not the place to discuss the pros and cons of non-vegetarianism. Whether it is right or not, fortunate or unfortunate, human beings are embedded, along with all other living beings, in a food chain which is part of evolution. (Even eating plants can be regarded as killing living beings). But sacrifices are not essential or inevitable for survival. When a cannibal was told that 20 million people were killed in World War II, he said, "what a waste of food!" Even cannibals or animals kill only to eat and do not indulge in sacrifice.

A human rights group has recently issued a statement that banning animal sacrifice is a violation of the human right of poor people. How sad that human rights groups, which are otherwise so essential to society, have evolved such a narrow, irrelevant and barbarous conception human rights to the callous exclusion of animal rights! According to them, Buddha, as we usually read in stories, who saved a lamb from slaughter, may qualify as the first of human rights violator in history!

A practical view

As an extreme libertarian view or as a practical administrative view, it is quite possible for one to argue that such matters should be left to public education and not coercive legislation as, in practice, trying to prevent such incidents often leads to law and order problems as I have myself faced once as a Sub-Collector. But these views at least admit in principle that such practices are bad and need to be eliminated. But unfortunately, Mr. Ramaswami has not taken this view but projects it as the essence of the so-called all-inclusiveness of Hinduism.

Mr. Ramaswami starts by quoting the Supreme Court of Hinduism — the Bhagavad Gita, the implication being that there is no further appeal! According to the Gita, yajna or sacrifice does not refer to the ceremonious Vedic ritual of physical killing but dedication of one's all to the service of the `One Life' that is in all. People with such a sacrificial spirit will accept even death gladly, though unjustly meted out to them, so that the world may grow through their sacrifice (Dr. Radhakrishnan's Bhagavad Gita, Allen & Unwin, 1970). In this view, when birds and animals are slaughtered, it is they that perform the real sacrifice a la Gita and not the slaughterers!


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