The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Animal sacrifice challenge to Jaya

Chennai, Sept. 1: Jayalalithaa is attempting what Adi Shankara failed to do and what the British left untouched. On Thursday, the chief minister ordered that animal sacrifices in temples be banned, but not everyone is listening.

Jayalalithaa directed district collectors, superintendents of police and zonal police chiefs to enforce a ban on the ritual killing of animals and birds in and around temples.

But, just a day after she wrote to district authorities to crack down on those violating the Tamil Nadu Ban on Animal and Bird Sacrifices Act, 1950, several goats and fowls were sacrificed at the Pandi Muneeswarar temple near Madurai.

Devotees, mainly Thevars belonging to the Other Backward Classes, routinely sacrifice animals on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. They describe it as Nethi Kadan (thanksgiving to their family deity).

The ritual killings fetch butchers around the temples a regular income.

But Friday’s sacrifice took place in front of police personnel near the Pandi temple. Having been ordered to “firmly deal” with animal sacrifices, Madurai district police later arrested three butchers who had allegedly slaughtered the goats and fowls.

Sources here say there are many other temples where animals and birds are sacrificed. This is more so in the rural interiors, especially in southern Tamil Nadu, where ancient beliefs co-exist with modern television and the Internet.

It is not uncommon for hundreds of cattle to be sacrificed to folk or community deities. Sacrifices are routinely offered to Karuppansamy in the southern districts after overcoming a severe drought.

The sacrifice is usually followed by a grand community feast where the cattle and fowl are consumed. Thus, there is a social and economic dimension to the ritual killings.

Jayalalithaa’s ban will not go down well with ADMK supporters among the Thevars, especially in the southern districts.

She was spurred into action by the sacrifice of over 500 buffaloes during a temple ritual in Tiruchirapalli district under the nose of the local district superintendent of police. The officer was later suspended.

“Can the Gods be really pleased by such brutal killings of animals and birds'” an angry chief minister had asked. Her directive has been welcomed by animal lovers and some religious heads in the state.

Chinnikrishna, speaking on behalf of the All-India Animal Welfare Board, hailed the ban as a “bold move”, which nobody had dared or cared to implement.

On August 27, Jayalalithaa offered jaded jumbos a reprieve, announcing that temple elephants, which are usually a source of income to their mahouts through the year, would be given a month’s “holiday” every year. She said the 41 tuskers, attached to various temples in the state, could not be made to work during this cool-off period when they will “rest and recuperate” in a common “medical-cum-get-well camp”.

But state politicians are divided over the ban. “This is just yet another shade of her Hindutva policies, depriving indigenous people their cultural rights,” said R. Thirumavalavan, convener of the Dalit Panthers of India.

Pattali Makkal Katchi founder-president S. Ramadoss said the ban was being opposed by OBCs and Scheduled Castes, among whom this practice is most prevalent.

He said the ban could be enforced non-violently had public awareness been created.

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