Su­per­sti­tion

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Be­lief in un­founded prac­tices brings bad luck for the an­i­mals if not for those who fol­low these prac­tices blindly.

by Maneka San­jay Gandhi

Asu­per­sti­tion is any be­lief or prac­tise that is ir­ra­tional, aris­ing from ig­no­rance, a mis­un­der­stand­ing of science or causal­ity, a way of be­hav­ing that is based on fear of the un­known and faith in magic or luck.

It is not based on rea­son, knowl­edge, and the su­per­sti­tious person has no care for the im­pact of his mon­strous be­lief on oth­ers.

Su­per­sti­tions are also con­ve­nient and within so­cial bound­aries (not the law). Not one says that if you kick your mother while leav­ing the house, you will have a fi­nan­cial wind­fall. Or if you sleep in your fa­ther’s bed, with him un­der­neath the bed, you will en­joy good health, or if you starve your wife and cut off her nose, you will get a pro­mo­tion.

But when it comes to an­i­mals, the imag­i­na­tion runs riot. Many su­per­sti­tions take the lives of an­i­mals.

One of the ear­li­est ones I had to deal with many years ago was the beat­ing and killing of foxes in Kar­nataka in the be­lief that the har­vest would be good. We stopped this – and now peo­ple have for­got­ten that thou­sands of these poor an­i­mals were caught in traps, whipped and burnt by lynch mobs. The har­vests con­tinue as be­fore.

All rit­ual an­i­mal sac­ri­fice is based on su­per­sti­tion: the pi­geon slaugh­ter at Ka­makhya, the goats killed daily in the Devi mandir in Kolkata (we have a court or­der that says they can­not be killed openly, so now it is done be­hind doors) be­lieved to cure one of neg­a­tive emo­tions such as fear, anger, and jeal­ousy, in which case Kolkata should have been one of the calmest places on Earth in­stead of be­ing the most volatile; the buf­faloes killed by the Gurkhas dur­ing Dashera, the lambs thrown from moun­tains in Kar­nataka and Andhra Pradesh.

None of this makes any sense and nor do they bring luck. The most dread­ful large scale sac­ri­fice is in Kala­handi once a year – and it re­mains the poor­est place in In­dia in­spite of amaz­ing nat­u­ral re­sources in­clud­ing pre­cious stones.

Su­per­sti­tions kill owls: poach­ers catch them, cut off their feet and sell these as

good luck charms. I once had a man ar­rested who had bought an owl from a poacher and was tak­ing him to be killed to pour the blood onto his 4-month-old baby who had a hole in its heart.

If owl parts bring health and good luck today, it was just a few decades ago when they were killed for bring­ing bad luck: there were be­liefs that an owl hoot­ing meant the death of a new­born or the pres­ence of witches. Com­ing across an owl meant an ac­ci­dent or ma­jor mis­for­tune that day. The hunt­ing and rit­ual killing of these beau­ti­ful birds has led to their ex­treme rar­ity now.

Ev­ery time you men­tion China and what they do to an­i­mals, my hair stands on end. The Naoyu fes­ti­val held on 2 June is a fes­ti­val for peace on Earth and a good har­vest which, as su­per­sti­tion dic­tates, starts with the catch­ing and killing of fish and cul­mi­nates with ty­ing a noose round a bull’s neck and hang­ing it till the strug­gling an­i­mal dies.

But do we do any bet­ter in In­dia and Nepal? Ev­ery five years, peo­ple used to send lakhs of an­i­mals from In­dia to the tem­ple of Gad­hi­mai in Bariya­pur, Nepal to be slaugh­tered in two days. A team of ded­i­cated In­dian ac­tivists, a com­pas­sion­ate Nepali Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment and the Supreme Courts of both the coun­tries fi­nally stepped in to stop this terrible sac­ri­fice in 2015.

Ev­ery few min­utes an an­i­mal is killed in In­dia to ap­pease a god: to get a male child, to get more money, to bring back a sol­dier alive, to get a good crop. It doesn’t mat­ter which an­i­mal it is and what the wish is – a be­ing has to be killed. For the most part we seem to be a so­ci­ety that lacks logic, sen­si­tiv­ity and the abil­ity to see rea­son in the prac­tices that have been handed down to us.

Athe­is­tic think­ing

If I told you to read by can­dle­light you would laugh be­cause elec­tric­ity is now the or­der of the day, but should I tell you that jump­ing on a bull and tear­ing its horns off will not bring a good har­vest, you would think I was athe­is­tic.

Do snakes drink milk? No. But the su­per­sti­tion that guides you to pour milk down the throats of poached rat snakes makes sure that thou­sands die ev­ery year dur­ing Naga Pan­chami in July.

Are black cats un­lucky or has this come from a Bri­tish su­per­sti­tion? So why are you killing them? Preg­nant women must give up their cats - while tox­o­plas­mo­sis is a risk for foe­tuses, a woman is more likely to catch it from han­dling raw meat or dig­ging in the gar­den, than from her cats.

Lizards come to rid your house of in­sects, but since you be­lieve that should one fall in the milk – some­thing that has never ever hap­pened – it would be un­lucky, so you kill them.

Amulets made of the parts of an­i­mals prom­ise wealth, pro­tec­tion from evil spir­its, even sex­ual abil­i­ties. While it is il­le­gal to sell or buy them, these ex­otic charms made of the parts of the tigers (I know one Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment who wears a tiger tooth), leop­ard, croc­o­dile, python, the pe­nis of mon­i­tor lizards, deer bones, snake fangs, camel's teeth can be bought with ease.

Face­book openly dis­plays hun­dreds of pro­tected an­i­mal’s parts for sale and the sell­ers even give their names and ad­dresses. In Thai­land amulets, which the sell­ers claim have been blessed by monks, fea­ture scrip­tures wrapped in tiger or snake skin.

Com­mon tal­is­mans are tiger claws, teeth and skin, ele­phant mo­lars, tusks and tail hairs and bear hair. Be­fore the gov­ern­ment banned “danc­ing” bears in In­dia, these poor an­i­mals were taken across the bor­der and killed for their gall blad­ders. Their hair was plucked out and made into good luck bracelets for tourists.

If you paid the danc­ing bear owner in Agra, you could see him ac­tu­ally pull out a fist­ful of hair, from the writhing an­i­mal, in front of you – so that you knew it was the gen­uine ar­ti­cle. Peo­ple hang rab­bits’ paws on their car mir­rors as the ul­ti­mate pro­tec­tor against ac­ci­dents and bad luck.

What brings you luck? Is it dead an­i­mals – be­ings so un­lucky that they were born on this planet and could not even pro­tect them­selves? Or is it kind­ness, com­pas­sion and love for this Earth that will bring you hap­pi­ness? Let­ting peo­ple mur­der in the name of su­per­sti­tion is al­most as bad as do­ing it your­self.

Stop an­i­mal sac­ri­fices wherever you think they take place. If you find any­one sell­ing an­i­mal charms on the net, let me know and we will take ac­tion.

Some­one I know bought a Vo­da­phone puppy two months ago. He keeps it in a cage dur­ing the day and lets it out to wan­der dis­con­so­lately alone at night. When I ob­jected, the man, nor­mally mild and amenable, be­came stupidly adamant at the thought of giv­ing up a dog, which clearly nei­ther he nor his fam­ily wanted.

My sec­re­tary asked his lo­cal priest: it turned out that the man had had a series of scooter ac­ci­dents re­cently and he was told that keep­ing a dog at home would stop them. The fact that he drinks dur­ing the day, of course, has no bear­ing on what hap­pens to him on the road.

Owls, one of the rare birds in In­dia, are

be­ing killed due to su­per­sti­tion.

Goats for sac­ri­fice.

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