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Animal stories

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THE KILLING

When it was early morning, I visited the Trichur slaughterhouse.

‘We kill 6O cattle and 15O goats here every day,’ he said. ‘The animals travel about 3OO to 4OO kilometres by foot from Tamil Nadu. This slaughterhouse was built in l972, complete with modern equipment. But the captive bolt stunners were never used, because of Muslim resistance.’

When we had finished their tea, he took me outside. There was a shed divided into pens, in each of which about six to eight cattle were tethered. There were some young hybrid animals with jersey blood, and there was a strong young buffalo that bellowed in pain. He had been cast and was struggling to stand up, although his legs were bound. Because he tried to raise his head, a handler stood with his shoe on the nose of the buffalo. The buffalo bellowed for a long time.

To cast the animal, two men pulled on ropes round its leg, while another man inserted his fingers into the nostrils of the bullock, and jerked the head backwards over the shoulder so the neck was dislocated. Another man twisted and pulled the tail, which was so mashed and broken it was like a twisted rag.

There were two slaughterers, and, when the casters had pulled down the cattle, they would call to these men. This meant that some animals lay for a long time after casting, and before being killed. They lay in a state of extreme fear because they saw, heard and smelt their companions being killed all around them. Their eyes started from their faces, and they defecated and urinated where they stood.

After casting the animals, when the slaughterer was ready, the casters stretched back the head roughly. Then the slaughterer cut a swift and deep slash under the chin. The animal continued to gasp for breath, and the air gushed down the trachea, creating a hollow, moaning gurgle. Then, after more than a minute, the cow’s eyes stopped looking. They fixed in death, and the head fell back.

Everywhere there were animals lying cast, or struggling and moaning as they were pulled down, or bleeding to death with twisted heads, with blood beating from their throats, and with heaving sides as they struggled to fill their lungs with air. A dying cow blinked blood from her eye.

In a large room sheep and goats were being slaughtered. The animals were dragged from outside with a rope round the neck. The goats were thrown upside down onto a raised cement block, by grabbing two legs and then throwing the animals down. They bleated and struggled, even while their throats were being cut. Then, even while they were still gargling with life, they were thrown onto a pile of dead and dying animals. They would struggle, their eyes wild and deep, until death intervened, and their heads fell back, and their lungs stopped labouring.

When I had seen enough, I said to the manager that I would go. There was a car waiting outside, which had been organised. The car was safe and padded. You could slam the door and be inside, and the killing was somewhere else. At the hotel, I sat at a table in the dining room and ate idli, and orange roast bananas and spinach curry and pakora, and the waiter said, ‘Come. Eat our beautiful South Indian food.’

So I ate it, but it smelt of sweet, sickly fear, of blood, the foam. Wherever I went forever more, the killing would always be there, daily, hourly all over the world, in dark places, unseen, unacknowledged, the sin against nature and the creatures of God.

Because I had seen the slaughter, nothing could be the same again. I had seen pigs slaughtered by sticking a knife in the heart and I had seen the journey of frightened cattle rolling their eyes as they were lifted along a conveyor belt towards their destruction by prestunning and sticking. I had seen sheep, carried like bundles of food by conveyor belt, and then electrocuted between the ears in order to render them insensible to slaughter. I had visited ships where Australian sheep were packed three to a square metre to endure the three-week journey to the Middle East. I had seen hens crowded into battery cages, and pigs kept most of their lives in iron bars. But now I began to understand the massive secret hidden killing which was happening all over the world, in all places at all times. I had not ever thought about the significance to humanity of this calculated, callous war between two kingdoms of nature, with one the permanent recipient and the other the eternal aggressor.

The next evening, I went to another slaughterhouse, where the manager said that pre stunning was used. The killing of cattle started at 9 pm. In the sky the moon was upside down. The night was quite black, and the killing took place under electric lights, so that it seemed I was in a walled world.

The cattle were led into the slaughterhouse from a yard outside. The killing area was clean. It was cement, with pens, divided by walls. There was a central walkway down which the cattle were forced to travel by pulling on a rope through the nose, by shouting, beating and twisting of the tail. At the entrance there was a wide drain about one foot deep down which the animals continually fell in the dark, twisting their legs and crying in pain.

When two animals had been led into a pen, tethered together at the neck, one man held the head of the animal, putting his hands over the eyes, and a second man swung the hammer high above his head, bringing it down with as much force as possible onto the animal’s forehead. Unfortunately, the large white draught bullocks, often as tall as a big horse, usually did not fall down with the first blow, because the horn on their foreheads was so thick. I watched a bullock being killed. He stood placidly as his head was positioned for the first blow. The hammer fell onto his forehead, and he staggered, but regained his feet, standing, rocking slightly, while his face was grabbed for a second time. Again the hammer fell, and again he staggered, lying, with his head raised, looking about him as the third blow was delivered. By now he was lying on his side on the floor, but still he was looking from his eye, and so the forehead ws smashed continuously until he was finally dead. The companion, tethered by the neck to the dying beast, was witness to the murder. It backed away in terror, but never panicked or fled.

There was a separate area where goats and sheep were killed. Many were brought by boys. The goats were tied, two or three together, in small boxes on the back of bicycles. They cried and bleated and struggled as they were dragged towards the slaughter area. Almost every one of them fell down the deep drain which crossed the yard. They were killed according to the Muslim method, without pre stunning. They were lifted into the air by two legs and thrown onto their sides. While they struggled and cried out, a knife was drawn across the throat. They lifted their heads, tried to bleat, their mouths opening and shutting, their eyes wide with fear. Then the eye would glaze over, and the animal’s head fall backwards.

Also there was a pig being killed. It was very large, and it was dragged by its back legs into the slaughter area, screaming with fury and terror. His squealing echoed through the darkness. A man with a hammer raised it into the air and brought it repeatedly down on the pig’s forehead. There was the sound of regular thudding as the pig struggled and grunted. After about four blows the struggling stopped. The man continued to hammer the pig’s skull until it was totally dead.

After I had seen everything the manager asked, ‘Would you like a taxi back to the hotel?’

‘No, thank you,’ I answered, ‘I think I’ll walk.’

I said goodbye and went out the gates onto the road. It was quite dark. A bus went past with a lighted interior, crammed with passengers, standing, sitting, swinging out the doors. The bus pushed her into the gutter and I stumbled. I began to cry, and to murmur over and over again to myself, loudly, ‘I will never forget their eyes.’

The whipping, the shouting, the pulling and pushing toward the noise and smell of blood, the moans and grunts of dying, bleeding, shattered, ripped creatures   all this they meekly took with their great, confused, helpless, staring eyes. If they had fought or argued like the pigs or goats it might have been easier, but their trust and their misery at human betrayal seemed to render them immobile. They raised no protest, no voice of question, not even a moan as the hammer fell again and again. And whatever was done to them seemed to be redeemed by their soft meditative eyes, their brown, deer like eyes, their eyes that were the gentle eyes of herbivores who had never killed, never warred, never tortured, who had worked and served patiently and unquestioningly under the yoke that galled and marred, driven and whipped, always hungry, usually thirsty, always tired.

Yet at the end of all this they were killed, without having been thanked once, without even one touch of love. Perhaps somewhere in a field, secretly a peasant farmer had embraced those sweet smelling necks for one last time. Perhaps once they had been loved, had been thanked, had known compassion. If I could have asked one thing it would have been that someone somewhere had loved them, that her own love could assuage a lifetime of human indifference. I loved them as deeply as it was possible for any person to love. They were my creatures, of me, my beloved animals, my God. I who loved their eyes in life, was the one who watched dispassionately their eyes in death, measuring how long the consciousness had stayed. My fingers were still warm with the warmth of their escaping life. I had been their sentinel in death, the priest of the last rites, the cold scientist who watched mercilessly the coming and going of breath, of blood, of movement. And all of these indications of life or absence of life were expressed in their eyes which stayed open even in death. I had watched their eyes being taken by death as the suffering and life force evaporated. I had watched her creatures as life after life was taken in violence.

After it had become light, and when it was morning, as though everything was normal, as thought the suffering had not happened in the very same town where people laughed and shopped, and ate, we went to a Christian church. It had a huge interior with a gaudy plaster statue of Christ on the cross, and Mary weeping under Him. His eyes were the eyes of the animals. He had seen, as they had seen, a reality far beyond the human consciousness. He, the lamb of God, the Good Shepherd, bearing the very name of God’s creatures, was persecuted and brought a new richness to the world. Perhaps it was also true that in their persecution the animals were purging with their blood, dying for human sins, absorbing human violence into their kicking writhing bodies. Perhaps, if humans were not being violent to animals, they might have already destroyed the world through war and bombs. The animals were the scapegoats upon which brutality could be vented. Were they the surrogate enemy, the lambs, the cattle, the pigs of God who died to take away the sins of the world? Perhaps this was why the white bullocks never cried out in anger. Perhaps, in their deepness, they could see more than any human. Perhaps they were closer to God for they were not veiled by greedy minds. They did not know the seven deadly sins.

The Jesus statue in its painted environment of blue, pink, jade and yellow, represented a man who had served with the same unconditional generosity as did His creatures. Perhaps it was this gift to the world, to help it through Kali Yuga, this black age of suffering, that the animals gave of their own free will, enduring the hidden transgression for the sake of the planet’s survival. For it was the last great hidden evil, for wars, and plagues and droughts and destruction of forests were all reported, in print and on the television. But nobody reported the death of millions and millions of animals in slaughterhouses every year.

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