NEW DELHI, India -- As the rest of India celebrates Hinduism's festival
of lights on Tuesday, unscrupulous witch doctors known as "tantriks"
will sneak into the country's dark corners to kill some of its rarest
and most majestic birds of prey.
It's India's secret shame -- unknown even to most devout Hindus. But
the religion's most important holiday, Diwali, marks a supposedly
auspicious time for the sacrifices of threatened and even critically
endangered owls -- a rite that some believe can win favor from the
goddess of wealth, Lakshmi.
"You take the leading newspapers of today itself, there will be 50, 20,
30 ads from tantriks advertising remedies of almost all kinds," said
Abrar Ahmed, an expert on the trafficking of birds.
"When people can be milked out, these tantriks will prescribe something
which is difficult to get -- they'll say an owl of 5 kgs or a certain
weight or certain size. There is where they make money.... They are the
ones creating a demand."