Can followers of Hinduism stay mute when bulls or any animal, for that matter, is being ill-treated?
Thaipusam is a festival which attracts Hindus to Malaysia. But this year, the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) has started an investigation into a complaint about the mistreatment of bulls used to pull the silver Thaipusam chariot in Penang.
A lawyer Shamsher Singh Thind watched a video of two bulls struggling to pull the heavy silver chariot and filed a complaint following which Malaysian Hindu society is debating the use of bulls in the Thaipusam processions.
Free Malaysia Today carried a lengthy piece on the subject and said that it ‘has learnt that the current silver chariot weighs at least five tonnes. This takes into account the chariot’s weight of 3.3 tonnes, as well as the weight of the 15 helpers that stand on them to receive offerings from devotees.’
This is different from the golden chariots run by the Penang Hindu Endowments Board (PHEB) which are pulled by the devotees during Thaipusam.
Fre Malaysia Time states that one of the devotees reported to it that “one of the bulls pulling the chariot had collapsed in the afternoon heat on Thaipusam eve but the chariot handlers managed to prop the chariot up before it tilted sideways, and the collapsed bull was quickly replaced by another which was following behind.”
The person further informed that it “was 12 o’clock in the afternoon. It was hot, and the bulls stopped as they could not take the weight. They kept beating the bull so that it would move. Then, one of the bulls collapsed. Then, they replaced it with a spare bull from the back. That replacement bull also could not take it. They kept beating the bull, but it would not move. Then they replaced it with another bull.”
Earlier, the Thaipusam chariot was built with wood, but it has since been donated to the Chettiar Temple in Medan, Indonesia.
Malaysian Hindu leader Prof. Dr. Ramasamy wrote a lengthy statement in which he espoused that Hinduism does not condone cruelty to animals. He wrote:
In India, especially in the southern states, the use of bulls have been discontinued in temple chariot processions. Reliance on devotees’ to pull the chariots, the use of tractors and other mechanisms have been favored in place of the use of bulls.
While tradition is an important component of Hinduism, there is a growing thinking that the use of bulls in pulling the chariots is something cruel and total abuse of animal rights. The formation of animal rights groups in India and other places has played an important role in persuading temples from the use of bulls to pull chariots during religious occasions.
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In Malaysia, there are definitive laws that can be used to prevent the abuse of animals. But their implementation leaves much to be desired for.
It is understandable that in the past when other methods were not available and when people were not aware of the rights of animals, the use of bulls in pulling chariots did not raise any questions. Moreover, during these days, the chariots were considered light weight compared to the present ones and those who ride on the chariots would be kept to a minimum of two. You did not have a situation where the chariots weighed more than 5 tonnes with 10 or 20 priests riding on chariots with their assistants.
Despite the general awareness on animal rights, there are some temples in Malaysia that continued to use bulls to pull the heavy chariots. Some of the chariots weigh more than 5 tonnes excluding those persons who will be riding on them. Given this weight, it would be a cruelty of great magnitude to force bulls to pull the chariots for a considerable distance.
The argument that the tired bulls would be replaced at certain critical points in the journey does not absolve those who are using the bulls from abuse and mistreatment of animals.
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They have been a number of cases where these poor and unfortunate animals have died from sheer exhaustion and beatings. A few days ago, a devotee reported in Penang of witnessing an incident where one of the bulls that was beaten dies as a result. Moreover, bulls that undergo this exhaustive journey of pulling chariots might not have really live long. So much for those who continue to defend the use of bulls in the name of Hinduism and tradition.
After a police report was lodged member of the public, the Veterinary department swung into action to investigate the allegations whether the temple authorities in Penang, those who behind the silver chariot, inflicted cruelty on the animals. The department is yet to release its report to the public.
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It is hoped that those temples that use the bulls to pull their chariots will cease to do so. Hinduism cannot be defended by mistreating and being cruel to animals. It is indeed ironic that Hinduism that pays so much respect to animals especially to cows and bulls, is being manipulated and misinterpreted to serve the selfish needs those who are bent on using bulls.
While we ponder the question of using bulls to pull chariots, let us remember the words of Mahatma Gandhi “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way animals are treated”.