29 August 2012

Let’s ask the goats, fowls and dolphins to talk about slaughter

[These are days of 'animal sacrifice' (e.g. Munneswaram Temple).  Creatures eat creatures.  For some eating dead meat is an article of faith, for some it is a cardinal sin.  This is something I wrote some time ago. Thought it is worth a repeat.]

There’s an email that is forwarded to me every now and then.  It comes with different subject-lines but all indicating that the Kingdom of Denmark ought to be ashamed.  It is an email that contains a few pictures.  There’s a village.  There are hills in the background, rolling happily down to the water.  There are people.  It is Feroe Island, we are told.  The sea is not blue or green. It is red. 

I hadn’t heard of Feroe Island. Nor about Calderon Dolphins. I didn’t know that there is a rite-of-passage related mass slaughter of these creatures by teenagers every year.  That’s what the ‘red’ in the water is all about.  Fishermen and boats gather in a semicircle behind a pod of whales and drive them towards the bay, where they are then hacked to death. 

This is ‘tradition’. It is about ‘culture’. Identity.  It is part of who those people are.  It is not illegal.  And yet there is something utterly repulsive about the whole idea.  That’s to you, not to us, a teenager who has just slaughtered one of these magnificent creatures might tell me. 

On August 25, 2010, some 300 goats and 700 fowls were slaughtered at the Sri Badrakali Kovil in Munneswaram, Chilaw.  Earlier, some bikkhus along with some Hindu clergymen had held a media conference condemning this practice.  On the day of the event, some bikkhus of the Jathika Sangha Sammelanaya had held a protest march which was stopped by the Police after obtaining a court order to ban the demonstration.   The bikkhus are reported to have then staged a ‘satyagraha’, sitting on the road and chanting sethpirith. 

The act is not illegal.  Some might find it repulsive, but then again not all repulsive things are illegal.  Those who slaughtered the animals can cite both legality as well as religious edict to justify the act.  Those who object can site the right to object enshrined in the constitution. 

It was pointed out to me that Muslims also slaughter animals for distribution to the poor as food during the Hajj Pilgrimage season, a sacrificial ritual initiate by Prophet Abraham (ref. Biblical and Quranic scriptures).  There’s meat in the markets.  Fish.  Some kill, some consume.  Nothing illegal about it.  

Legality is an interesting cover. There’s nothing illegal about sex.  And yet, people don’t fornicate in full view of the public.  Dogs are killed. Legally.  They are not, however, sedated, piled one on top of the other in a children’s park, doused with fuel and set fire to.  This particular slaughter did not take place in public view.  It was legal.  It did not, by dint of the behind-closed-doors element, offend anyone’s visual sensibilities. 

Should we not talk about it then? Should we defer to notions of religious tolerance, right to practice religion etc and let it all pass without comment?  Well, in that case, there’s nothing to stop any individual or collective from justifying anything and everything as ‘religious edict’.  I can say, for example, that I am the founder of Malindism, a religion which requires has a funeral ritual where the dead are dragged along city streets for as long as it takes dogs, kabaragoyas, flies and other creatures that prey on dead flesh to reduce corpse to skeleton. 

Ok, I don’t know all the laws.  The above might constitute some kind of infringement but I am sure there are countless repulsive things that are not illegal but which still call to question the core elements often cited as crucial in distinguishing human being from other creatures.  Someone can say ‘animals kill, but only for food, for survival,’ and the slaughterer can retort ‘we kill because survival is not only about satisfying hunger, but has a spiritual component as well’.  A spiritual food-chain of sorts, then? 

I find myself murmuring, ‘excuses, excuses’. 

I don’t know.  I don’t think religion, religious custom etc are cast in stone. They are made for interpretation and I don’t think that such things should not be discussed. We can cite laws, refer to secular values etc., and look the other way.  The law, however, is not heaven-made.  Just like interpretation of the dhamma, the Bible, the Quran etc. human being are constantly engaged in making and breaking things, understanding included. 

And, since we are engaged in law-speak kind of justification, here’s an ancient law that made sense to many: Abhaya-daanaya was given to all creatures by Royal decree subsequent to Arahat Mahinda’s exchange with King Devanampiyatissa.

There’s another small legal matter it might be good to reflect on: the Animal Welfare Bill prepared by the Law Commission.  It is gathering processual dust, I believe.  Why?  

When 1000 lives are snuffed out in a matter of hours it causes me to shudder in horror. On the other hand, why should shuddering be a product of death-volume?  Is there a number circled with a red pencil which, if exceeded, calls for protest marches, satyagrahas and sethpirith, which in turn prompt reference to legality and secular values, and the solicitation of court order and execution of the same?

Religion can be a cover.  The law too. 

The flip side reveals a lot, in such situations, I’ve learnt.   It is possible that in the religion practiced by Calderon Dolphins, it is believed that being be subjected to a ritualistic killing gives the victim an automatic visa to Dolphin Nirvana/Heaven.  It is possible that in certain Goatism or Fowlism sects, similarly ritualistic deaths guarantee an audience with and melting into Goat-Maker or Fowl-God as the case may be. 

No one asked the dolphins, as far as I know. No one asked the goat. Or the chicken. Now that’s something to think about.