Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bandh II: Animal Sacrifice

Another day, Another Bandh. I drove into the city earlier this week to get a motorcycle helmet, but couldn't get much past the Bagmati bridge because of a city-wide protest over animal sacrifice. In a sort of anti-PETA demonstration, Hindu protesters went ballistic over the new government's decision to cut off funding for animal sacrifice. To be clear: they were agitating *for* government money to buy animals for ritual sacrifice.

It started after the new federal budget, which incidentally is delivered C-SPAN like in an hours long live televised speech by the finance minister, declared the government would no longer purchase buffaloes, goats, chickens, ducks, and other animals, to be killed during hindu festivals. (during last year's Dashain Festival, religious sites in the city sacrificed 250 goats and 190 buffaloes, costing about $25,000 in taxpayer funds).

So protesters- mostly Newar people who were the original residents of the Kathmandu valley and make up the majority of the population now- closed down streets around the city, burnt tires, and lobbed tear gas at police. This is about more than money, though. It's about some Nepalis' fears that religion and traditional culture is under attack by the new secular maoist government.

So far, when it comes to culture, that government has been pretty active: forcing cancellation of the 2008 Miss Nepal Beauty Pageant and shuttering Kathmandu danceclubs after 11 PM. Next up? Banning liquor sales in neighborhood markets. The response to each has been similar: traffic shutdowns, or threats of city shutdowns. In a place where until very recently people haven't had much opportunity to exercise their political will at the ballot box, a robust culture of protest has flourished.

As for animal sacrifice, in the face of the protests the finance minister finally relented, claimed he had never stopped sacrifice funding in the first place, and reinstated the money in full.