Whose dog meat is it anyway?
The Nagaland state government's move to ban the import and sale of dog meat following social media outrage further unravels the power-play of State versus indigenous communities
On July 1, Pritish Nandy posted a distressing photograph of dogs on Twitter with their heads peeping out of gunny sacks and mouths tied. The image was accompanied by a Tweet: “This is urgent. You can help make history by sending an email tonight to email@example.com saying Nagaland must stop dog markets, dog restaurants and smuggling of dogs into the state. Eating dog meat is inhuman, not just illegal. The issue comes before the cabinet tomorrow." It caused a social media outrage with animal lovers and activists joining his campaign with hashtags such as #BanDogMeat. In an expedited move, within two days, Temjen Toy, Chief Secretary of Nagaland, responded with a Tweet saying that the state government has decided to ban commercial import and trading of dogs and also the sale of dog meat, both cooked and uncooked. Amidst this, there is little clarity on whether the photograph posted by Nandy was from Nagaland.
Anthropologist Dolly Kikon hails from Nagaland and is a senior professor at the University of Melbourne. She has written multiple books spotlighting the issues of her state, such as Life and Dignity: Women's Testimonies of Sexual Violence in Dimapur (Nagaland). Speaking to Mint, Kikon says the practice of eating dog meat is a complex subject and the abrupt ban does not make sense. She adds, “While Delhi and the mainland are celebrating this decision, the Northeast in general is appalled. This reaction shows who is dictating the conversation." This comes at a time when people from the Northeast are being subjected to discriminatory racial slurs that range from "coronavirus" to "go back to China". In an opinion piece on East Mojo, a regional digital news platform, writer Richard Kamei points out that the ban goes against Article 371A of Nagaland which grants the state a special right to allow Naga communities to follow and maintain their customary law and social practice.
The comments on Toy’s tweet point towards the immediate need to create alternate income sources for those who entirely depend on the sale of dog meat. The loss of livelihood triggered by the ban in selling dog meat was astutely documented in a 2017 essay titled Debating Dog Meat in Dimapur written by Kikon and published in the Shillong-based bilingual webzine, raiot.in. Here is an excerpt: "Forty years old and mother of four children aged 12, 14, 16 and 18; all her children were in school, which she paid for by selling dog meat. For Ms. Akhu and her colleagues in the adjacent dog meat stalls, they sell a food item like any other vendor at the market. Many of them had been landless and came to Dimapur as migrants from rural parts of Nagaland. Some of them were single parents while others had partners, but were unemployed and struggled to find employment."
“What is now considered taboo by certain segments of the wider population was once revered by our forefathers. They believed some meats, such as those of dog, frog and rat, have medicinal properties," shares Chef Joel Basumatari, founder of Slow Food Community Nagaland for biodiversity and heritage preservation. He is baffled by the ban and questions—“Why now?" It is shifting attention from more pressing matters in the State, such as the steady rise in positive cases of Covid-19 and the employment concerns of the large number of migrants who returned from cities due to the pandemic. He also believes it is important to pay attention to the security threat to the state as it shares borders with China.
Proposals of dog meat ban isn’t new to Nagas. According to Kikon, “Earlier the ban on dog meat was a matter for the municipal councils to handle. This time, it was quickly passed as a law due to a sudden cabinet agenda also known as ‘pressure from above’."
FIRST PUBLISHED08.07.2020 | 08:00 AM IST