Shimla: Live and let live. This idiom has summed up the landmark 110-page humane judgment of the Himachal Pradesh High Court that banned the age-old tradition prevailing in most areas of the hill state to sacrifice animals to "appease" various gods and goddesses in their pantheon.
Invoking 'parens patriae', a doctrine that grants authority of the state to protect persons who are legally unable to act on their own, a division bench consisting of Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Sureshwar Thakur observed: "The practice of animal and bird sacrifice is abhorrent and dastardly."
The bench, in its interim order Sep 1, had banned the sacrifice of animals in temples, saying they cannot be permitted to be killed in a barbaric manner to "appease" the gods.
Taking cognisance of holding Jagati Puch - the convention of oracles - in Naggar in Kullu district Sep 26 to decide whether the ban on animal slaughter is acceptable or not, the judges observed: "The extra-constitutional bodies have no role."
"They can't issue directives to the followers not to obey the command of law. They cannot be permitted to sit in appeal over the orders and judgments of the court...any religion congregation cannot become law unto themselves."
Maheshwar Singh, the local legislator and chief representative of Lord Raghunath, the Kullu Valley's chief deity who called the 'Jagati Puch', told IANS it was unanimously decided to reject the high court ban. He said 266 assembled deities endorsed that the animal sacrifice was part of their age-old custom.
Interestingly, the high court's judgment came on the same day when the Jagati Puch was called Sep 26.
At the Jagati Puch, which is held only in extraordinary situations, the invitation is sent to oracles who speak for the gods - and they publicize what they claim to be divine verdicts.
Petitioner and animal rights activist Sonali Purewal said the practice of animal slaughter is prevalent in Chamunda Devi temple in Kangra, Hadimba Devi temple in Manali, Chamunda Nandi Keshwar Dham in Kangra, Malana in Kullu, Shikari Devi temple in Mandi, Bhima Kali Temple in Sarahan and in Ani and Nirmand in Kullu district, Shillai in Sirmaur district and Chopal in Shimla district.
According to Purewal, who is with the People for Animals NGO, it takes 25 minutes to kill a buffalo. At times, the buffalo runs amuck to save itself. The animals are mercilessly beaten up and chilies are thrown into their eyes.
"Superstitions have no faith in the modern era of reasoning. The animal sacrifice of any species, may be a goat or sheep or a buffalo, cannot be, in our considered view, treated as essential part of religion. It may be religion's practice but definitely not an essential and integral part of religion," the court said.
"Hindu religion, in no manner, would be affected if the animal sacrifice is taken out from it. We have to stand up against the social evils," the court added.
"The animals have basic rights and we have to recognize and protect them. The animals and birds breathe like us. They are also a creation of god. They have also a right to live in harmony with human beings and the nature."
Reaffirming its interim order, the bench reiterated: "No person throughout the state shall sacrifice any animal in any place of public religious worship, including all land and buildings near such places of religious worship which are ordinarily connected to religious purposes."
"Sacrifice causes immense pain and suffering to the innocent animals. The innocent animals cannot be permitted to be sacrificed to appease the god/deity in a barbaric manner. Compassion is the basic tenet in all religions. The practice of animal sacrifice is a social evil and is required to be curbed," the bench added.