A picture of dogs tied and kept in sacks in a market claiming to be from Dimapur, Nagaland surfaced on social media platforms. As a necessary corollary, concerned animal lovers/animal rights activists went on a spree, signing petitions and sending e-mails to the Government of Nagaland requesting an outright ban of dog meat in the state.
Owing to this pressure from the mainstream media Sri Temjen Toy, Chief secretary to the state of Nagaland took to Twitter to announce that “The state government has decided to ban the commercial import and trading of dogs and dog markets and also the sale of dog meat, both cooked and uncooked,” on the 3rd of July 2020.
The State Government has decided to ban commercial import and trading of dogs and dog markets and also the sale of dog meat, both cooked and uncooked. Appreciate the wise decision taken by the State’s Cabinet @Manekagandhibjp @Neiphiu_Rio
— Temjen Toy (@temjentoy) July 3, 2020
And, while the ‘mainland’ animal lovers/animals rights activists celebrate this as a victory for their fight against animal cruelty, they failed to see into account the larger consequences of their demand. The Nagas, on the other hand, raised their concerns regarding ‘outsiders’ meddling in the local issue.
The Nagas are known to have unique food choices which are different and unlike any other state in mainland India, and we take pride in the diversity of delicacies we indulge ourselves in. The consumption of dog meat in our cuisine is prevalent but not favoured by all Nagas.
The Nagas comprises of 16 major tribes and many more sub-tribes, and each tribe has different culinary choices. So, it is difficult to attribute one tribe to this delicacy but it is to be noted that a very minuscule percentage of the population in Nagaland consumed dog meat in today’s time.
Food means different things to different people and for the Nagas, dog meat is believed to have great ‘medicinal’ value. Traditionally, dog meat is cooked and served to the men who’ve returned from wars to help them in a speedy recovery. Dog-bone marrow soup is fed to women who are recovering after giving birth because it is believed to have high nutritional value, and such is how dog meat continue to find space in Naga kitchens among the ‘exotic’ delicacies the tribes of the state has to offer.
While this is a cultural significance of the meat, it is also important to understand the socio-economic aspect of how this controversial food fits into the ‘modern’ Naga society. As mentioned above, currently there exists a very small number of people who still continue to consume dog meat.
As a result of globalization, and the flourishing of Eurocentric food businesses in the Naga communities, the Naga palate has also transformed over the years and we’ve found alternatives to meet the demands of our nutrition intake. But, dog meat still remains one of the most easily accessible and cost-efficient meat, as compared to wildly consumed pork and beef, for which prices surge every now and then.
While dog meat can be bought for ₹200/kg, pork and beef meat prices are ₹350 and ₹450 respectively. And hence, the ban on the consumption of dog meat will hit the poor and vulnerable disproportionately. As much as dog meat indicates the social structure and economy of the state, it has more cultural significance for the Nagas.
Now, one may wonder that if the choice of meat in question here is rooted in the history and cultural practices of the Nagas, then how was the state government able to come into consensus to ban commercialisation of dog meat in Nagaland in a matter of two days?
The answer to that question is evident, that it is due to the pressure that the government received from the mainstream media and animal rights activists from different parts of the country, in the form of social media outrage. This sadly proves that time and again the ‘Mainland’ has failed to understand and respect the culture and traditions of the Native and Indigenous people from the North-east.
Food is more than what meets our palate. Food is devotion for some, a way of life for others, and for many, it is their identity. So, to take our food away from us would mean erasing our culture and our very existence.
We need to be able to locate intersectionality between animal rights activism and rights of indigenous people to preserve and protect their culture and traditions. One needs to understand that advocating against animal cruelty is one thing and policing the food choices of native and indigenous people is another.
It is disappointing to see that just a few weeks ago India was applauding the movie Axone for representing the plight of the North-eastern youth living in the metropolitan cities of the ‘Mainland’ India. The movie revolved around food politics, and how a group of youth from the North-East struggle to cook a dish, which becomes a problem because of the strong aroma the dish produces. It is an unpleasant smell for the nose of mainlanders, and today you’ve managed to impose this idea of what is the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ kind of food in our homes.
But, as we celebrate this as a victory, there arise some important questions that need to be answered.
Nagaland is known to be home to wide varieties of meat delicacies then why is the outrage limited just to dog meat? The Nagas have been known to consume dog meat for time immemorial now, then, why did we choose this time to cry for justice for ‘man’s best friend’, just a day after the central government decided to extend the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) by another 6 months and declared the whole of the state as a “disturbed area“. Perhaps the timing can be coincidental and this analogy could be presumptuous but I feel it definitely leaves room for doubts.
The ban on dog meat itself does not assure that the community of people who have been consuming it for all this while, despite the stigma attached to it, will stop its consumption abruptly. Instead, it may possibly lead to the creation of more unethical practices to sell and procure the meat through illegal means, like the black market.
This will have a huge impact on people with lower income, who depend on dog meat to meet their nutritional needs. Also, in the absence of regulation of these ‘illegal’ markets, the animals may be subjected to more cruelty.
Not forgetting to mention how this public outcry has strengthened the stereotypes about people from the North-East being ‘savages’ and ‘uncivilised’ because we do not adhere to the ‘norms’ of the mainland.
We cannot tell if the delicacy would continue to be cooked in the private kitchens of Naga homes, but animal lovers and animal rights activists sure need to be clear on their objectives, because pushing of banning of dog meat in Nagaland wasn’t animal rights activism.
It was selective outrage coded with racism, ignorance, and an outright attack on the identity of the indigenous people of Nagaland.
Non-consumption of meat has nothing to do with the love for animals, just like consumption of meat doesn’t imply that one is ‘barbaric’ or ‘savage’.
And, it is better the ‘mainland’ does not impose their moral ‘standard’ and brahmanical diet on indigenous people who have had better, and more sustainable, food practices than the rest of the country.
And, since we’ve established that this is not animal rights activism and rather, is selective outrage backed by the question of morality, we might as well leave this choice to individuals to choose for themselves, and not impose our beliefs on someone else.