A critical view on animal cruelty and religious dogma in Pakistan – by Shiraz Paracha


Slaughter of cow calves is common in some parts of Pakistan but the society is shockingly insensitive to such cruelty. It seems insane to raise the issue of animal cruelty in a country where violent human deaths are taken casually; however, observing cruelty to animals has compelled me to write about the this issue and raise some q…uestions.

Some times ago a local daily had reported that hundreds of baby cows and buffalo were killed in Peshawar’s illegal slaughterhouses with some calves just few days old. When the Police raided a slaughterhouse, reportedly, the legs of one calf were cut while it was still alive; the purpose was to sell the calf as a tender piece of lamb meat. That practice continues and meat is supplied to posh restaurants in the city where it is sold as lamb. The business is booming due to the high demand.

Politicians, businessmen, civil servants, journalists and intellectuals eat at restaurants that sell such meat. While eating tons of young flesh, members of intelligentsia discuss world problems and talk about rights and responsibilities.

Milkmen around the city of Peshawar sell newly born calves because according to their calculations, everyday a baby cow drinks milk worth 100 to 200 Pakistani rupees. Greedy milkmen deprive calves of their mothers’ love and sell them to butchers for rupees 1,500 to 2,000 each. After separating mothers from babies, cows and buffalo are injected with special chemicals so that the animals start giving more milk.

Interestingly, butchers, milkmen, restaurant owners and meat eaters are all faithful Muslims. Most of them offer five-time prayers, fast during the month of Ramadan and perform the pilgrimage of hajj.

Anti-India and anti-Hindu Pakistani society adhere to a very conservative interpretation of Islam but in many ways Pakistanis are, culturally, close to Hindus. One sign of this cultural association is Pakistanis’ preference of mutton over beef. In Pakistan, lamb meat is more expensive than beef.

Few years ago my little daughter, Saba, came to Pakistan from abroad. She was very excited to visit her homeland. As we left the Peshawar airport, Saba told me about her two cats which she had left behind. Saba is an animal lover.
As we passed through a busy Peshawar street, Saba started screaming. She couldn’t comprehend why a man was beating a horse that was pulling a cart. I tried to calm her down but cruelty to animals could be seen all around. Fragile donkeys were pulling weight load that seemed 100 times heavier than their capacity but owners were hitting poor donkeys with sticks. Dozens of people were riding ‘tongas’ and horses were whipped by impatient ‘kochwans’ (tonga drivers). Live chicken were kept in horrible conditions. A van with live animals passed by us in which knife waving butchers were sitting in the back.

All such scenes horrified Saba. She kept crying and repeatedly asked: “Dad, I do not want to stay here, please, take me back to the airport?” I had no explanation. Eventually, she stayed in Pakistan for a couple of weeks but her mood was spoiled. Cruelty to animals is so common in Pakistan that no one notices it. Actually, it can be a symptom of deeper behavioral issues.

In the past 30 years, Pakistan appears to have turned into a confused society where faith, business and politics are mixed up and messed up. Most religious rituals and symbols are based on distorted and inaccurate history account. Exhibitionism is a way of life in the post 1980s Pakistan. The most corrupt pretend to be most religious. Highly confused and cruel people preach Certainty in the name of Islam. Such people spread hate and division in the society using religion as a weapon. Hate preachers are treated as ‘sacred cows’ because they have the protection of the military, which has the dominant role and the final say in Pakistan. Generals have been using religious sentiments to gain legitimacy and respect.

Forced imposition of borrowed religious and cultural identities has damaged the social fiber of the society. The ruling elites of Pakistan are afraid of open and honest dialogue. Mullahs have the monopoly over religious interpretations and they use religion to suppress truth. Mullahs of different brands and sects tell the public everything but the truth. This has created confusion and division in the society where every group wants to enforce its own brand of truth and often resort to violence.

Superficiality and double standards are common but the society seems to be in a state of denial. For example, thousands of Pakistanis, including the educated classes, truly believe that the Taliban brand of Islam will dominate the world soon. There is little soul searching or honest and critical self-analysis.

Everything is left to God. Many people do not initiate reforms in the hope that God will fix their problems. Even crimes are committed with the belief that eventually God will forgive.

Every year, around two million Pakistanis gather near Lahore at the annual assembly of the Tabligi Jamat. Many in attendance are involved in the abuse of law and human rights but at the annual gathering they, too, cry and beg God to resolve theirs’, Pakistan’s and the larger Muslim community problems.

In few months, Pakistanis will slaughter millions of animals on the occasion of Eid al-Adha. Many will even borrow money to buy an animal to perform the ritual. Others will spend hundreds of thousands of rupees to show off their wealth. In the entire country cruelty to animals will be displayed publicly. The rich and the poor, the young and the old, educated and illiterate, everybody will be excited by the game of blood on the streets in the name of God.

Pakistanis are expected to spend more than 300 million dollars on animals that will be killed in just three days. Such a huge sum could be used for humane purpose in a country that is suffering from chronic economic crisis.

As compared to other faiths, Islam does not believe in dogma. It is simple and rational. It is easy and flexible. Islam emphasizes kindness and honesty. Kindness to animals is part of Islamic teachings but the political use of Islam has caused harm to Muslims in many ways. One aspect of this damage is growing cruelty and insensitivity.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan, mullahs and the military have been promoting dogma in the name of religion. Any suggestion or rational solution is considered a contempt and an attack on Islam. Winds of intolerance have blown away reason and logic and it is extremely sad.

Shiraz Paracha is a journalist and analyst. His email address is: shiraz_paracha@hotmail.comSee More




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