Everyone feels stunned and saddened by the natural disaster in Nepal. After an earthquake 5,000 are dead and eight million people, about a quarter of the population, are homeless as seventy percent of buildings have been destroyed.
Nothing could have prevented this catastrophe, but the aftermath could have been better. Nepal is prone to seismic shifts and experiences bad earth tremors about every five years.
Since the last one they have been offered international support to help them organise for such an eventuality. The British government tried to get them to install early warning systems and plan for providing water, food and shelter in the event of a major quake.
The people the British dealt with were ‘too fatalistic’ to bother planning ahead. The almost certain fact of disaster did not interest them. But last November they were prepared to organise a two day festival for thousands of visitors. In this Hindu religious ceremony 300,000 animals of all species had their head hacked off before a delighted crowd.
Like the earthquakes this festival arrives every five years. It is held in honour of Gadhimai, the ‘goddess of power.’ A blood sacrifice it is believed will appease her wrath and keep away natural disasters. With this preventative strategy in mind, festivities kicked off with the mass-slaughter of 6,000 buffalo in a field, followed by pigs, goats, birds, rats and mice, all beheaded.
International protests against this feast of blood were ignored. Even India refused to export cattle to Nepal at the time of the festival. Well we all know now that the goddess was not appeased and the attempts to rescue people from the effects of her fury are collapsing in chaos. What we are seeing is human nature at its worst, so far sunk in superstition that tragedy is inevitable.
As Voltaire put it in the 18th century: Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy, the mad daughter of a wise mother. These daughters have too long dominated the earth.
Or as William Blake put it in a more localised English way: ‘He who frights the little wren, is neither good to God nor men.’