Cruel 'festivals' in Karnataka destroy the concept of animal rights and need to be wiped out

Every time I miss an opportunity to put some form of cruelty right, I feel enormously guilty — almost as If I had been responsible for it myself. I have always found people in Karnataka extremely vicious in their attitude towards animals. All their festivals involve some form of animal torture and killing — from the Ashvamedha Yagna of Mysore, where live horses were thrown into the fire (until Diana Ratnagar stopped it, I think) to the Makar Sankranti or harvest festival.

Kadaballi is a village on the Bangalore-Mangalore national highway in the Nagamangala taluka of Mandya. Its deity is Kaveti Ranganatha. This deity is to be worshipped with live foxes on the day after the harvest festival of Makara Sankranti.

The hunting of foxes begins the day before Sankranti and takes three days. Nets, that are blessed by the temple, are used to hunt them in the valleys of the Kadaballi region, Kadehalligudda Valley spreading out to Hassan district.

The hunters split into two groups. The first group beats drums and blows horns to drive the foxes from their hideaways. The other group waits with nets outside the holes. Scared by the noise, the foxes rush out and are captured.

 Cruel festivals in Karnataka destroy the concept of animal rights and need to be wiped out

Representational image. Reuters

The more that are caught, the luckier the village. Usually, five to ten foxes are trapped. Sometimes, the foxes are killed while being captured and are buried on the spot, which becomes a "sacred" place. These are the lucky ones.

The captured foxes are brought back, with their mouths and legs tied, and kept in a pen behind the temple. About 30,000 people congregate for the "festivities", the liquor flows, firecrackers are exploded. At 10 pm, the trussed foxes, already half-dead with fright, are dragged out. Their ears are pierced with gold rings and they are stuffed onto a decorated chariot and taken in a noisy procession of drums, cymbals and dance to the temple. There, the animals are garlanded, water is sprinkled on them. Firecrackers are tied to their tails and lit. Their legs are untied and they run into the night with their tails on fire. Most die of their wounds.

Dhanaganahalli in Mysore Taluka also has "fox-worship". Here, they are even more brutal. The foxes have their mouths sewn shut with ordinary needle and thread (think of that happening to your mouth). With blood dripping from their mouths, the defenceless animals are presented to the deity. After that, their lower right ears are cut off and stray dogs, who have been captured days in advance and kept hungry, are let loose on the tied animals. Mauled, bleeding, dying, the foxes are let loose.

Ask the villagers why they do this and they answer that they regard the fox as an incarnation of God. I can now understand why Jesus Christ was crucified! If that is what they do to their gods "in the interests of the prosperity of the village", what would they do to demons? Better not to ask. A local paper gave a large photograph of the ceremony. It shows a tiny red fox, its tongue sticking out of its tied mouth while the surrounding urchins push and pull at it with ropes.

The Indian fox (Vulpes bengalensis) is found in southern India. It is a self-reliant and solitary animal that eats food ranging from berries, plant material and offal, to small birds and rodents. Food, that is not immediately needed by the animal, is buried. It has silvery red, thick, long fur, a bushy tail and upright ears. It makes no great demands from its environment, living in rabbit dens which it enlarges, or digging its own holes. Sometimes, it even shares its den with other animals, wild cats, rabbits, even owls. Apparently, a peace treaty is in operation.

It does not wander too far from its den — and so villagers, who keep a sharp lookout for these holes throughout the year, have an easy time capturing it. Fox calls range from a soft whimpering, or purring, sound between mother and child, a howl which is an abandonment or loneliness call, to a loud yapping when threatened.

The belief that a fox raids villages for its chickens or piglets is greatly exaggerated. In fact, the fox is so timid that, were it to venture near a human habitation, it usually takes one aggressive rooster to drive it off.

As it is, young foxes have a very high mortality rate. The female bears three to five young, but most die before they become independent. If the mother is killed, the father takes over the rearing. In fact, as soon as the young are born, the father starts bringing food for the mother to the den. He takes his family for a "walkabout" when they become old enough to see the world. The family unit is a loving, caring one.

The ability of the fox to elude its hunters is extremely limited. They can be hunted year after year at the same sites. It can be easily attracted by imitating its call and it comes readily, throwing caution to the winds. It does not understand even the rudiments of disguise. It will often fail to jump into an available hole till its hunters are gone. It will not run into water to disguise its scent — while even deer do that. It is simply a shy and anxious creature that lives as best as it can on whatever is available. The Indian fox is small and lacks the strong odour of other foxes. It even makes a good pet. This is the animal that villagers in Karnataka deify and then mutilate and kill.

This must not happen next year. Please write to the Animal Welfare Board of India in Chennai to take anticipatory action by informing the police. Write to the environment minister of Karnataka and tell him to use the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act to arrest a few of the villagers, so that this evil is wiped out.

Even write letters to the Deccan Herald, or any other paper in Bangalore, so that you can make this issue important. The lives of the few remaining foxes depend on you and me.

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Updated Date: Jan 30, 2017 19:17:29 IST