I wish I could say I was shocked, but after seeing similar sentiments after the tsunami in Japan in 2011 (re: dolphin hunts), I was more in bunker mode just hoping I had somehow insulated myself from it. “The earthquake in Nepal is karma for the Gadhimai Festival.” How could anyone reduce an event of disaster and suffering to this focus, holding up their exclusive concern for animals over the lives of thousands of people that were lost in an instant? How narrow minded would a person have to be to not also see this earthquake as a destructive event for captive and wild animals in Nepal – what of their “karma”?
Gadhimai, for the those who don’t know, is a festival in Nepal that takes place every 5 years were mass amounts of animals are slaughtered to honour Gadhimai, the Hindu goddess of power. Approximately 5 million Nepalese, or more specifically Madhesi people, take part in the festival and the festival has always faced opposition within Nepal and from bordering India – who have fought to restrict the movement of animals in Nepal for the slaughter.
Opposition to Gadhimai in the Western World has intensified in recent years as part of “turn and burn” campaigns that allow large non profit organizations to leverage racist and xenophobic sentiments into large scale donations. This “outrage” cycle is profitable for Western animal advocacy organizations and Gadhimai is part of a larger group that includes dog and cat meat trades, dolphin hunt, wildlife trafficking, and more. These funding cycles allow organizations to expend little effort, face little risk, and they can play off of and stoke misanthropic and racist views that do little to nothing to challenge animal use in the West. They are comfortable and they are part of the reason why things like this spill over.
Along with this current, there is a growing popularity within the vegan community of atheist and new atheist thought. Applied to Gadhimai, sometimes in connection with larger non profits, this provides another layer to buffer the “rational” against the so-called “irrational” slaughter of animals in Nepal.
Neither of these currents are really about helping animals – one is focused on the organizational growth of animal advocacy non profit organizations, and the other is focused on advancing western “rationality” as a cover for white superiority. However, both are currently popular within white dominated animal advocacy communities in North America and Europe.
How does this betray what they claim is their focus – other animals? First, meat consumption per capita in Nepal is 12.2 kg. In comparison, most of Europe and North America register in around 80-120kg. If meat consumption and animal slaughter is the main focus for any Western animal advocacy community or organization, they should never have to look any further than their own backyard. It is absurd that Gadhimai would ever be a focus for Western animal advocacy or organizations.
Outside of pure meat consumption, the issue of Gadhimai is one of framing or “lens.” Gadhimai’s “ritual slaughter” is framed in a typical Western lens which erases and normalizes Western animal slaughter – how “rational” is the consumption of 1.25 billion chicken wings for the Super Bowl? What underpins the slaughter of 46 million turkeys in the US for Thanksgiving other than the irrational quasi religious practice of settler colonialism?
What is the end result when these issues are presented this way, for these reasons? You get misanthropic and racist people publicly expressing horrible sentiments that an earthquake in Nepal is “karma.” Yes, those comments are absurd and sickening, but they can’t be understood in isolation. This is what we get when we frame animal advocacy in terms that erase our social positions and play off of xenophobia and racism of the “other.” If we are going to condemn those comments, we also have to condemn the organizations who are fuelling this misrepresentation for their own aims. This has to stop.
Failing all of this, the discussion of karma on these terms makes me wonder what “karma” awaits us – those of us who live in the most ecologically destructive societies in human history and who gain from it. Are we to believe that tornados, tsunami’s, earthquakes and volcanoes would discriminate based upon whether or not someone eats other animals? What horrible act could happen to a human being close to you that you would accept as “karma” because they ate animals? The topic of why society is hostile to vegan and animal rights positions and why our communities do not grow dominates conferences, academic papers, books and blogs. What kind of people do we even attract when the issues are Gadhimai or Dog Meat? At some point people need to realize that presenting issues in this way is counter productive and overall ensures our movements and communities remain isolated, full of racist and hateful people, and completely incapable of challenging the heart of animal use – which surrounds us.
For the people of Nepal, and those who rightfully mourn.