Their tears

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Animals also have rights. Animals also do not want to suffer. They want to be treated humanely. They want to receive love and affection. And they certainly want to live out their natural lives. They do not want to die or be killed before their natural end. This is also their right. – Garda Ghista

By Garda Ghista
[[ World Prout Assembly ]] Originally published September 2004

Two hundred years ago Europeans enslaved millions of black Africans and brought them to the Americas on ships. And millions died on those ships, from disease, malnutrition, starvation and just plain cruelty. Today, most people understand that this was wrong, and that black Africans have equal human value as white-skinned people. However, we need to now move one step further, and expand our minds a little more. Animals also have rights. Animals also do not want to suffer. They want to be treated humanely. They want to receive love and affection. And they certainly want to live out their natural lives. They do not want to die or be killed before their natural end. This is also their right. The great activist and writer, Taslima Nasrin, describes in her autobiography, Meyebela, the occasion of a festival, as follows:

“People started to make arrangements for the sacrifice. A black bull had been brought three days before, and was now tied to the banyan tree. Tears were streaming from its dark eyes. Suddenly I felt my heart ache. Here was a living being, chewing his cud, switching his tail; yet, in a few moments he would become buckets of meat. The [priest] sat under the tree and sharpened his knife. Uncle H. went and brought a heavy bamboo pole. Baba [my father] spread a large mat in the courtyard where the men would sit afterward and chop the meat. Uncle, Baba and a few other men tied the bull with a rope and placed the bamboo pole between its legs, so that it stumbled and fell. The bull cried out in pain. Ma and my aunts were standing at the window watching the sacrifice. All eyes were dancing with joy. Only Uncle S., still wearing a lungi, stood in one corner of the field and said, “A poor, defenseless animal is going to be brutally killed, and people are actually happy to see that happen? And so is God? None of you have a shred of sympathy. That is the real truth.”

“He removed himself from the horror of the sacrifice. I remained standing. The bull thrashed its legs and bellowed again. It took as many as seven strong men to hold it down. It threw them off desperately and rose once more. Again, the bamboo pole was used to make it stumble and fall. This time, the priest acted quickly. As soon as the bull fell, he raised the knife and shouted, “God is great! God is great!” and slashed its throat. A stream of blood spurted out. The bull was not yet dead; it continued to roar with its half-slit throat, its legs flailing.”

“An ache formed in my heart, sharp and persistent. I was not required to stand and watch anymore. Ma had told me, as she did every year, it was my duty to watch the sacrifice. When the priest began skinning the dead animal, its eyes were still full of tears.”

“The meat was divided into seven portions. Three were for Grandma’s family, three were for us, and the remainder distributed among our neighbors and the poor. We spent all our time eating pulao, korma, shemai, and jarda. The work of cutting the meat continued all day. Huge ovens were lit and the meat was cooked in very large pans. In the evening, when the cooking was finished, Ma and Grandma bathed and put on new saris. Guests started pouring into the house. Uncle S, still wearing a lungi and an ordinary shirt, returned after a walk around the neighborhood. He said, “There is so much blood everywhere. The entire area is drowning in it. I don’t suppose anyone knows how many bulls were killed today? Those animals could have been given to farmers. Many of them can’t plow the land because they don’t have oxen. Why are men such monsters? I just don’t understand. One single family wants to eat all the meat they can get from a bull. And yet, think how many don’t even get a handful of rice!”

“There was no point in asking him to have a bath and put on new clothes. Grandma gave up, and simply said, “All right, so you did not wish to take part in the celebrations. Don’t you even wish to eat? Aren’t you hungry?”

“Why, yes! Give me whatever you can. I’ll eat anything except that meat,” Uncle S. replied, heaving a deep sigh.”

“Grandma’s eyes brimmed over. How could she bear the fact that her eldest son, her firstborn, would not touch the meat from the sacrificial bull on this festival day? She wiped her eyes, vowing silently not to touch the meat, either. When did a mother ever eat anything, anyway, without first feeding her child?”

One time I was in a small village in south-central India, and rose up early in the morning to the sound of buffaloes mooing loudly and joyously. I stepped outside into the cool morning air of this deccan plateau. Buffaloes were coming around both sides of the small one-room house. Suddenly one buffalo came towards me, and her eyes were full of tears. Tears were running down her face. I asked my Indian sister, why does she have tears? My sister replied, “Oh, it is because she has become separated from her baby, she is crying for her child.”

So if I did not understand before, I could understand now, that the cows, pigs, buffaloes, dogs, sheep, goats, chickens – they are like you and me. They cluck, bleet and moo in joy, and they also cry and shed tears when in pain. And most of all, they have the instinctive desire to live out their lives in peace. So why should we kill them, and what moral right do we have to kill them? The great humanitarian, Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, said:

“… Similarly, the life of a goat is as important to it as my life is to me. During religious festivals many innocent goats are killed and offered as sacrifices to various deities. The remaining goats are made to chew on leaves as they watch in wide-eyed fear, knowing that they will shortly meet the same fate. Now, put yourself in the same situation. Imagine that you, along with some others, have been captured by a few demons. Then, as you are fed rice and pulse, the demons begin to systematically slaughter you all, one after another. The horrified reaction that will arise in your mind as you wait to be butchered is the same reaction as that experienced by the captive goats. If people still want to kill innocent goats in their religious sacrifices after realizing the cruelty of this practice, tragically, there is nothing that anyone can say to them.”

Sometimes it is easy to forget, especially when everything is neatly packaged and de-bloodified, what meat actually is. Meat is the flesh of the animal. Animals are our friends! We have now reached the 21st century of human existence. Can we not just expand our horizon, our mental faculty, and consider that it is time to respect not only the human beings, but also the animals and even the plants? We need to think not only of human rights and justice, it is time to also think of animal rights. Their happiness is as important as the happiness of human beings. Again, in the words of Sarkar,

“Before killing birds and animals for food you must think hundred times whether you can stay alive without killing them.”
Garda Ghista is author of The Gujarat Genocide: A Case Study in Fundamentalist Cleansing and President of the World Prout Assembly. She may be contacted at

7 comments on “Their tears
  1. heartrending! This issue should transcend all politics. Thnks for running this piece.

  2. As a political person I have often dismissed the case of animal suffering as a minor issue, but I admit I have been wrong. I will be looking to read more about this enormously complicated question and to participate from here on out in the relief of animal exploitation.

  3. I do not know to what extent (in human law) a creature can have “rights’ without full conscience…but that animals are fully entitled to their freedom from our awful ministrations, of THAT I’m pretty sure. Thank you for a wonderful read. Will pass it on.

  4. Thank you for your powerful piece.
    Sometimes people misunderstand the concept of animal rights. No one is expecting that animals to vote. The rights we speak about refer mainly to the right not to be tormented, tortured, and exploited.
    And, Mr. Martin, I must disagree with you. Animals absolutely have consciousness.
    But more importantly, they have sentience.

    I think Philosopher Jeremy Bentham put it best: “The question is not: ‘Can they reason?’ nor ‘Can they talk?’ but ‘Can they suffer?'”
    All animals can suffer and therefore deserve to be treated humanely.


    Rina Deych, RN

  5. In the years of being involved with animal rights issues, I have often been asked about exactly what rights animals have.

    The general public has actually come a long way from the days when they accused “us” of wanting the same rights and privileges for animals that we enjoy: Driving, voting, and other equally ridiculous things.

    Garda Ghista sums it up in the first paragraph – it’s so simple:

    “Animals also have rights. Animals also do not want to suffer. They want to be treated humanely. They want to receive love and affection. And they certainly want to live out their natural lives. They do not want to die or be killed before their natural end. This is also their right.”

    The sooner this message can be made public in the mainstream media, the sooner the general public will come to understand that we don’t really ask for anything unattainable or outrageous for animals, or even human beings on this planet.

  6. What a horrible thing to have seen as a child. I cannot look at meat without seeing the face of the animal whose flesh was taken. I wish that everyone contemplating the purchase of meat would be required to read this first. The people who kill them must be without a soul.

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