A mob of men in Bhopal, India, this week attacked a group of female volunteers with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals who were trying to persuade religious believers not to slaughter goats during the Muslim holiday of Bakrid. During the holiday devoted to the poor, the devout slit the throats of thousands of goats and give the meat to the destitute.
The victims of the attack were all Indian women, including Benazir Suraiya, PETA India’s media and celebrity projects specialist, according to Ingrid Newkirk, PETA’s president.
“The chief spokesperson, who wears a burka, is a Muslim,” Newkirk wrote in an email. “People were yelling at Ms. Suraiya, who was trapped by pillars, ‘Rape her!’ ”
Suraiya’s face was cut, and she is undergoing treatment for her wounds, according to Newkirk.
“The beautiful religion of Islam has always viewed animals as a special part of God’s creation,” Suraiya wrote in an email. “We simply wanted to encourage everyone to help make the world a kinder place by taking the opportunity that Bakrid affords to give alms such as vegetables, fruits, breads, or pulses to people and animals in need.”
One woman was hospitalized for her injuries.
The police tried to impose order but were badly outnumbered, Newkirk said. Several police cars were damaged and at least two officers injured.
“The PETA India staff members and some local volunteers had gathered outside the Tajul Masajid, considered the largest mosque in India, to let people know that a growing number of Muslims now celebrate Eid by giving clothing, money, or fruit, beans, and other cruelty-free food offerings,” PETA said in a statement.
Another PETA India staff member had her pants torn away as she attempted to flee the attackers, who threw stones and demanded that the women be stripped and stoned. “The volunteers...had to run for their lives as the crowd of angry men swelled to hundreds of men and police lost control,” according to PETA.
For now, the women do not wish to file a criminal complaint, Newkirk said.
“They were there with peaceful intentions, and their cause is to ask for nonviolence to animals,” Newkirk said. “Ironically, the mosque has filed a complaint that the women, in speaking of Islamic practices, were denigrating religion. It was nothing of the sort.”
Shahid Ali, a prominent local political leader, blamed the activists for the assaults. “I am myself a vegetarian,” he told The Hindu. “Let them campaign for vegetarianism and protection of animals. But they can’t target a religious belief and tradition, and that too outside a shrine held dear by the local community.”
The volunteers do not wish to be identified. But one of them told Newkirk that the women feared for their lives.
“When the stones were flying, I began shaking so hard, thinking of my family and then thinking of how the goats must also feel,” she told Newkirk. “It is seldom a good day for animals, but it was not a good day for women."