Prayer is the method of communicating with God or a spiritual being. Sacrifice, like prayer, is a way of connecting with a deity. In other words, we can define it as the offering of material things including the lives of animals or humans to a deity as an act of propitiation.
Typically, the term “sacrifice” connotes “doing without something” or “giving something up”. However, the word sacrifice is also used in a metaphorical sense for being compassionate to others. Animal sacrifice is the ritualistic slaughtering and offering of one or more animals as a part of various religious traditions to appease Gods. Many religions around the world perform such sacrifices and these had existed historically in every civilization, from the Hebrews to the Greeks and Romans, from Islam to Hinduism. The whole or part of an animal is offered in the sacrifice. In some olden and contemporary Greek customs, most of the edible parts of an animal are consumed and the remains are burnt. Others conducted a carnage, in which the animal was burned alive. The best animal or its best part is usually favoured for the sacrifice.
HISTORY OF ANIMAL SACRIFICES
Ancient proofs of animal sacrifice can be discovered in Egypt which is the first country of animal domestication. Sheep and goats were found buried together while gazelles were discovered multiple feet away from the corpse of humans. Non-domestic animals such as baboons and hippopotamus were among the creatures whose carcasses were uncovered in a cemetery revealed at Hierakonpolis which dated back to 3000 BCE. They might be sacrificed in honour of dominant citizens or buried alongside their former owners.
By the end of the copper age in 3000 BCE, the animal sacrifice became common practice across many cultures in the world. The practise of animal sacrifice in India is associated with old Vedic culture and is recorded in scriptures such as Yajurveda. The Ashvamedha, a Vedic ceremony in which a horse was permitted to ride freely for a year before being sacrificed, is recorded in the Yajurveda. Shreds of evidence of this can also be seen in Mahabharata, where the emperor Yudhishthira performs the Ashvamedha after winning the Kurukshetra war. Animal sacrifice became associated with religious misinterpretations and superstitious beliefs and started being used for personal advantage by selfish people. Even in some of the most sophisticated towns, animal sacrifices became common during religious festivals and fairs.
PRACTICES OF ANIMAL SACRIFICES RELATED TO RELIGIONS
The Arabic word for sacrifice is “Qurbani”. Every year during the Islamic month of “Dhu al-Hijjah”, Muslims around the world butcher an animal – a goat, sheep, cow, or camel – to remember Prophet Ibrahim’s act of sacrificing his son, “Ismail”, as an act of devotion to God. The flesh received from sacrifice is divided into three parts. The first part is for relatives, friends, and neighbours, the second part is for the poor and needy, and the third part is for one’s own household. On the other hand, Islam condemns slaughtering just to show off.
During the Old Testament period, animal sacrifices were offered to God as an atonement for the sins of the people. Today it is believed that Jesus had surrendered his own body and life for all living beings. As a result, Christians in the New Testament do not encourage the sacrifice of animals.
Animal sacrifice in Hinduism is largely related to Shaktism and folks like Kaula marga, which are strongly entrenched in local tribal customs. Though prohibited in some Puranas a Upapurana named Kalika Purana explains it elaborately. The Sanskrit phrase for animal sacrifice is Bali, which means “tribute, offering or oblation”. It also refers to the blood of an animal and is also known as Jhatka Bali among Hindus. Decapitation (Jhatka), strangulation, and pushing a spike into the heart of the animal are the methods of sacrifice. The Jhatka method calls for a single decapitating strike with an axe or blade for instant carnage.
LEGALITY OF ANIMAL SACRIFICE IN INDIA
“The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960”, is the prime law that regulates and criminalizes animal cruelty in India. The goal of this act is to avoid unnecessary animal brutality. Section 11 of this act stresses the same. Although the redundant brutal killing of animals is a punishable offense in this section, butchering for religious purposes has not been specified. Section 11(3)(e) indicates that killing animals for the purpose of providing sustenance for mankind is an exemption to the PCA Act unless the animal is not subjected to needless pain and suffering. However, in Section 28 of the act, it is mentioned that “nothing contained in this Act shall render it an offence to kill any animal in a manner required by the religion of any community.”
Different kinds of rights granted to animals can be understood only by interpreting the rulings of various judgments. In the “Gauri Maulekhi vs State of Uttarakhand” case, the High Court of Uttarakhand interpreted and established the relationship between Section 11(3)(e) and Section 28 of the PCA Act. The Supreme Court in this case concluded that “if an animal is killed, it should be done in accordance with the religion of the community in question and that sacrifice should only be for the purpose of providing sustenance for people and not for any other reason.”
In “Animal Welfare Board vs A. Nagaraja and Ors”, the Supreme Court gave a new dimension to the basic right provided under Article 21 to include non-humans. This could render numerous animal-related laws and regulations invalid, including the legality of ritual sacrifices. Although a few courts have underlined the abhorrence of animal sacrifice, debate persists on legal interference in spiritual affairs interrupting the enjoyment of Article 25 i.e., Freedom of religion. If we look at Article 25(1) closely, we can see that there is a link between the “right to life and freedom of religion”. The article states that “every person has the freedom to profess, practice, and propagate religion, provided that it does not hinder public order, morality, health, and other provisions of Part III of the constitution, i.e., the fundamental rights.”
When it comes to court actions in religious animal sacrifice cases, judges had different viewpoints. When a PIL was filed under Article 32 in 2015 challenging religious animal sacrifice, the Supreme Court refused to interfere stating that the law cannot interfere in such longstanding rituals. Being a delicate issue, the court remarked that the centuries-old customs cannot be disregarded. However, the Tripura HC banned religious sacrifices in all temples in the state in 2019. The court opined that the state should enact laws prohibiting the slaughter of creatures for religious purposes as it violates public interests and morals.
REMEDIES AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Many states including Gujarat, Kerala, Puducherry, and Rajasthan already have legislations prohibiting these acts in temples. All religions encourage compassion and none of them demand needless animal slaughter. Animal violence is harmful to everyone because it normalizes killing and desensitizes humans. Organizations like “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)” and politicians like Maneka Gandhi are trying to abolish animal sacrifice. Many spiritual leaders also have spoken against ritual and other forms of animal killing. It is high time to individually contribute to such efforts of compassion. In cases of violation of laws, the actions to be considered are –
- Record and photograph the illegal sacrifice witnessed.
- Notify the proper authorities about the brutality along with proper complaint and proof.
- Appeal to the central government to delete Article 28 of the PCA Act that permits animal sacrifice.
Progress is being made, but it is not without opposition. While five courts in the country have ruled against ritual sacrifice, four of those have been challenged in the apex Court. The Animal Welfare Board of India and Gauri Maulekhi are presently defending the judgments. We should definitely appreciate and encourage them for their efforts to put an end to this inhumanity.
Animals have been subjected to heart-breaking cruelty since the dawn of mankind. People attempt to placate God by sacrificing animals, oblivious to the fact that God will never be pleased with man’s brutality to his creations. The bans on animal sacrifice and the Supreme Court order to strictly enforce the PCA Act have provided unfortunate creatures with a much-needed break from the harsh treatment they have received. There are no effective universal or national laws to prohibit animal sacrifice. The future of five High Court judgments (in Himachal Pradesh, Tripura, Kerala, and Orissa) prohibiting animal sacrifice is still pending before the Indian Supreme Court.
The concept of animal sacrifice should be a subject of public debate. Many such rituals rely on “substitution”, in which animals serve as proxies for people in order to fulfil a sacred responsibility of the loss. Even in this modern world, it is extreme disgrace for manhood to believe in such rituals. Showing humanity to all the creatures is the best offering of worship and hence animal sacrifices like cruelties should be put to an end.
Author(s) Name: Tulsi Shyam (Ramaiah College of Law, Bengaluru)
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