The Army has a problem on its plate. Union Minister for Women and Child Development and animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi has objected to two traditions in the forces that, according to her, amount to cruelty to animals.
She has written to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar that the practice of animal sacrifice in the Gorkha regiment and another of airdropping living animals for regiments posted in inaccessible areas to provide them fresh meat must be stopped. Gandhi had written a similar letter to Parrikar’s predecessor in the ministry, Arun Jaitley, earlier.
The Gorkha regiment has been around since the time of the British, and animal sacrifice has been followed since its inception.
At the same time, the Gurkha brigade in the British Army, a throwback to its Indian days, ended the practice of sacrificing male buffaloes in all its units stationed in Hong Kong and Brunei back in 1973. Similarly, the Gurkha brigade of Nepal allows sacrifice of only one animal for all its men, Army officers said.
In the Indian Army, many top officers, including Chief Dalbir Singh Suhag, belong to the Gorkha regiment. Sources said the Army has urged that its age-old traditions not be tampered with.
According to sources, Gandhi’s first letter, sent in July 2014, called the practice “unnecessary”. “The government of Uttarakhand has banned animal sacrifice even for the Army, and the regiments stationed in Uttarakhand have stopped killing animals. Therefore killing animals for sacrifice is not intrinsic to any culture or practice followed by a regiment. Hence it needs to be immediately stopped,” she wrote.
The other practice the minister has sought an end to is officially called ‘meat on hoof’. Started during World War II, it involves dropping live animals from choppers with parachutes strapped on them.
Gandhi has called the practice, followed for border troops, “barbaric”. “It may have had its use during that period when communication and roads were not available, but there is no reason why the animal should be subjected to such cruel practices in present times, especially when pre-packaged meat products are easily available.”
Sources said both Parrikar and Jaitley have sought the Army’s views on the matter.
Neither the Army nor the Ministry of Defence responded to email queries.