Nordic telecom major’s Nepal freebie gets animal lovers’ goat

Kathmandu, Oct13 (Calcutta Tube) Following the advice that when in Nepal, do as Nepalis do has landed Nordic telecom giant TeliaSonera in the midst of a controversy in the country.

At a time animal rights activists have begun a campaign asking for an end to animal sacrifices during Dashain, Nepal’s biggest Hindu festival which sees thousands of birds and beasts sacrificed at temples, TeliaSonera’s Nepal venture Ncell has come under fire for offering an extraordinary freebie – live goats.

TeliaSonera, the dominant telephone company and mobile network operator in Sweden and Finland, acquired Spice Nepal, Nepal’s first private mobile telephone operator, in 2008.

Since then, the brand has been repositioned as Ncell, in line with TeliaSonera’s other Eurasian ventures – Azercell in Azerbaijan, Ucell in Uzbekistan and Starcell in Cambodia.

With Dashain, the 10-day festival corresponding to India’s Dussehra, starting from Friday, corporate houses have been offering an incredible array of freebies, ranging from apartments, cars and gold to electronic goods.

However, Ncell’s offer has been even more incredible. It started a campaign – Khasi khane katha – the tale of eating goats, an allusion to the rise in the consumption of goat meat during the festival during which many families even keep goats in their houses before slaughtering it themselves on a suitable day.

It is a common sight to see long-distance buses heading towards remote districts with passengers home-bound to celebrate the festival with their families – and carrying goats meant to be slaughtered. The hapless beasts stand precariously on the roof, bleating pathetically, as the bus hurtles across bad roads.

The Ncell campaign centred on popular riddles which had to be answered through SMSes. A player who could send as many correct SMS answers as he could on a single day won a goat.

Durgaraj Regmi, a 50-year-old bank employee, texted 365 correct answers to win a goat.

‘However, I preferred to take the cash – NRS 6,666 – instead of an actual goat, though the option was there,’ a squeamish Regmi told IANS. ‘Though I am a non-vegetarian, it is not essential for us to eat mutton during Dashain.’

Another winner, Bijay Ram Lamichhane, who runs a shop in the Sundhara area of Kathmandu, said he too took the cash instead of a live goat.

‘We saw the advertisements and we are condemning it,’ said Pramada Shah, a prominent member of Animal Welfare Nepal Network (AWNN), an alliance of animal rights’ organisations that this week kicked off a campaign asking people to stop animal sacrifices from this Dashain.

The campaign has received unexpected support from a theatre group that had an actor dress up as Hindu goddess Kali, regarded as demanding sacrifices, and saying that she did not want blood but would be happy with pumpkin and coconut sacrifices.

Facing other adverse comments and criticism, Ncell final suspended the goat freebie offer from Saturday, the second day of the festival, saying it had intended the campaign to be purely entertaining.

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