Every year during the week leading up to Yom Kippur, several sects of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn sacrifice an estimated 60,000 chickens in makeshift slaughterhouses that are erected without permits on public streets. The practitioners of the ritual slaughter, called Kaporos, violate multiple city health codes:
The NYC Department of Health defends the illegal sacrifice, arguing that the city has not observed any “disease signals” associated with the practice. The NYPD, which is charged with enforcing the laws, instead aids and abets in the crimes.
A toxicology report confirmed that Kaporos poses a “significant public health hazard.”
“The Chief of Police and Health Commissioner are political appointees, and their boss, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, has clearly instructed them to assist in the illegal Kaporos massacre because the practitioners represent a powerful voting bloc,” said Donny Moss, an organizer in the effort to compel the city to enforce the laws. “Not only does the City provides police barricades, floodlights and an army of police officers and sanitation workers, but it also provides the traffic cones where tens of thousands of chickens are bled out into public streets.”
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio instructs the NYPD to aid and abet in the illegal slaughter of an estimated 60,000 animals on the streets of NYC (Unparalleled Suffering Photography)
On October 17th, during oral arguments about Kaporos in the the New York State Court of Appeals, a city attorney confirmed that laws are broken but argued that the city has discretion over which laws to enforce.
City health codes that are violated during Kaporos
During Kaporos, an estimated 60,000 six-week old chickens are intensively confined in crates without food or water for up to several days before being slaughtered and discarded. Many die of starvation, thirst and exposure before the ritual takes place. A toxicology reported commissioned by residents in the neighborhoods that are contaminated with the blood, feces and body parts of chickens states that the ritual a “significant public health hazard.”
With just a few days to go for the country’s biggest festival, Diwali, Indian owl species are going to face a cruel fate. Even though we term Diwali to be the festival of lights, these are dark times for countless owls whose lives are endangered at the hands of poachers.
Indian Owls sacrificed during Diwali
While the illicit trade of these protected bird species goes on throughout the year, it is during Diwali that the business is at its peak. This is mostly because ignorant people, fueled by misguided beliefs and superstitions carry out the age-old practice of sacrificing owls during this time. The Logical Indian spoke to Delhi-based Ornithologist and author Bikram Grewal who shed some light on the bird trade across the country.
He said that throughout the year, these birds are sought for their body parts like skulls, talons, beaks, feathers and even blood. Driven mostly by irrational myths, tantriks or black magic practitioners use the parts to make medicines, he informed. However, during Diwali, the bird, owing to its status as the ‘vaahan’ or vehicle of Goddess Lakshmi, is sacrificed with the belief that it will compel the Goddess to remain in their homes and bring good luck all year long.
According to Grewal and other wildlife activists, Agra serves as one of the biggest hubs of the illegal trade of this bird in India. He said, “Around the Agra region, more specifically Korai-Karavili village is where rampant sale and purchase of the owls go on.” Of course, being illegal, the activities are carried out in secrecy to keep the authorities and wildlife activists away from the crime. All Indian Owl species are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. The Forest Owlet is protected under Schedule I of the Act while all others are under Schedule IV. Reportedly, some Indian Owl species also find their places in the Red List of threatened or endangered species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Clandestine sale of Owls in India
Over the years, there have been several news reports which highlight the plight of these birds. Earlier this year, there were news reports of police in Karnataka arresting two people for selling owls. The Assam Tribune had in 2017 reported that some species of Indian Owls which are highly prized in both domestic and international markets are trafficked from Assam to markets in Delhi on the occasion of Diwali. The news report cites two Owl species – the Brown Fish Owl and Indian Scoops Owl as being most trafficked.
Moreover, while the traffickers pay a meagre amount of money for both juvenile and adult Owls, to the customers, they are sold at a hefty price which can range anywhere between Rs 2000 for a bird to Rs 40,000, informed Grewal. The quality of life for these trafficked birds are needless to say, subpar. Life inside tiny cramped cages is horrible, to say the least. Sometimes, the bird’s eyes are also sewed together and bones broken.
Difficult to rehabilitate
Owing to the secret nature of the trade, it is difficult to get data on the number of Owls which are sacrificed or killed each year, however, the numbers are large. Jayanti Kallam, Executive Director of Avian and Reptile Rehabilitation Centre (ARRC) in Bengaluru while talking to The Logical Indian said that out of the 30 Owl species found in India, the Indian Eagle Owl is the most sought-after compared to other kinds. Her organisation even issued an appeal on social media to make people aware of the issue.
Talking about the rehabilitation of the trafficked owls, she said that the rehabilitation centres can only spring into action when they are informed of such owl trade in and around the cities by others. “No one is actively working for the protection of the owls,” she said.
Even though the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, a statutory multi-disciplinary body established under the Ministry of Environment and Forests deploys police force and other volunteers to keep a check on the crime in illegal markets in India, owing to the clandestine nature of the job, the task becomes almost impossible, she added.
The Logical Indian Take
The entire superstition surrounding the practice does not even make sense. Sacrificing an owl is supposed to keep Lakshmi at home, or is it supposed to force Lakshmi into staying? There is a difference. People need to be sensitised about these irrational beliefs and spare the innocent lives of the voiceless creatures. Owls are a symbol of wisdom and where is our wisdom when we mercilessly kill the bird just for apparent personal gain?
These birds are threatened and need protection. People also need education and awareness. The Logical Indian condemns this practice and urges authorities to take strict action the culprits found guilty.
Denmark’s government has brought in a ban on the religious slaughter of animals for the production of halal and kosher meat, after years of campaigning from welfare activists.
The change to the law, announced last week and effective as of yesterday, has been called “anti-Semitism” by Jewish leaders and “a clear interference in religious freedom” by the non-profit group Danish Halal.
European regulations require animals to be stunned before they are slaughtered, but grants exemptions on religious grounds. For meat to be considered kosher under Jewish law or halal under Islamic law, the animal must be conscious when killed.
Yet defending his government’s decision to remove this exemption, the minister for agriculture and food Dan Jørgensen told Denmark’s TV2 that “animal rights come before religion”.
Commenting on the change, Israel’s deputy minister of religious services Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan told the Jewish Daily Forward: “European anti-Semitism is showing its true colours across Europe, and is even intensifying in the government institutions.”
Al Jazeera quoted the monitoring group Danish Halal, which launched a petition against the ban, as saying it was “a clear interference in religious freedom limiting the rights of Muslims and Jews to practice their religion in Denmark”.
As NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett began delivering remarks at a forum about charitable giving, activists angered by her refusal to enforce health codes violated during an animal sacrifice shut down her talk. This was the fifth time that activists have disrupted Commissioner Bassett over her support of Kaporos, a religious ritual during which ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York City swing an estimated 60,000 six-week old chickens around their heads and slaughter them, contaminating the streets and sewers with their blood, body parts, feathers and feces.
“How can Commissioner Bassett make a presentation in good conscience about taking care of the less fortunate when she’s endangering the health of some of NYC’s most vulnerable residents?” asked Nathan Semmel, one of the organizers of the disruption. “We know we can’t ask Dr. Bassett to align her behavior with the values she publicly espouses, but we can demand that she enforce the law.”
A dozen animal rights and public health advocates disrupt NYC Health Commissioner over her refusal to enforce health codes violated during a mass animal sacrifice on public streets.
The most recent protest comes on the heels of news about the spread of bird flu. On June 15th, Newsweek reported that The Centers for Disease Control said the current strain of avian influenza has “the greatest potential to cause a pandemic of all human viruses.” If the flu spreads to the United States, New Yorkers will be particularly vulnerable because tens of thousands of city residents come into contact with the sick and dying chickens who are stacked in crates on the streets for several days leading up to the Kaporos ritual.
NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett refuses to acknowledge a toxicology report which includes avian flu as one of many health risks associated with the ritual sacrifice Kaporos (center photo: Unparalleled Suffering Photography)
Sources inside the administration say that Commissioner Bassett is refusing to enforce the health laws because the ultra-Orthodox Jews who violate them represent a powerful voting bloc that helped to elect her boss, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.
NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett refuses to acknowledge the multiple health codes are violated during a mass sacrifice of 60,000 six week old chickens on public streets.
“Not only does Dr. Bassett refuse to enforce the health codes, but she also refuses to acknowledge a toxicology report which unequivocally states that the violations jeopardize the public health by exposing New Yorkers to e-coli, salmonella, avian flu and many other pathogens and toxins,” said Jessica Hollander, who participated in the protest. “Her decision to put politics ahead of public health will come back to haunt her if a disease outbreak occurs because she has been warned by experts that the illegal animal sacrifice poses serious health risks.”
Multiple health codes are violated during Kaporos, a ritual animal sacrifice, but NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett turns a blind eye because the practitioners represent a powerful voting bloc.