Kohima: Consumption of dog meat has been a disputed topic, especially focusing on Nagaland, for a long time now. But the state government’s July 3 decision to ban commercial trade of dog meat has created a social uproar, particularly over Article 371(A) being overlooked, which gives the Naga tribes the right to practise and maintain their customary law and social practices.
The ban on commercial import and trade of dog meat, dog market and commercial sale of dog meat in markets has been applauded by many, but concerns have also been raised terming the ban as a ‘fascist’ move.
While different opinions have been voiced out through various platforms, there is a section of the Naga society who has been left voiceless following the ban. There are many villagers whose source of livelihood was only dependent upon selling dog meat.
EastMojo reached out to some women vendors whose livelihood depended on the trading of dog meat. A 44-year-old woman, who has been trading dog meat in Kohima for around 20 years now, recounted how she joined the business. She said that along with her friends they would collectively buy one dog and trade the meat by sharing it among themselves. “Even if we wanted to buy many at one go, we could not because we have no money as we are poor,” she said.
Before the ban was imposed, she said that she and friends continued to trade. She said that with time, they began to purchase about five to ten dogs from Dimapur and continued to sell for a week or so depending on the demand of the customers. These women vendors were also affected due to the COVID-19 nation-wide lockdown which has affected the country’s economy.
“Since the lockdown we have been struggling. Feeding the family has also become a difficulty and there’s no means to pay house rent and school fees for children, as it is hard to sustain,” she said.
Months after the business was stopped due to the lockdown, the vendors once again took to the streets to trade dog meat for sometime as the ‘unlock’ phase began. Although the business resumed for a short while, she said that there was a huge spike in the price of dogs and the hike in the transportation charges also affected the business.
However, these vendors are now permanently barred from their only source of livelihood.
“Now, what can I do to feed on. Even if we have to do daily labour works also, we don’t get work. Sometimes we would be lucky to get work for 2-3 days in one week but then there is no work for the next 2-3 weeks. So, we have to rest. I keep wondering about what I should do to sustain,” she said further expressing her desire if the state government could consider and lift the ban.
Like her, a 39-year-old woman vendor, who has been trading dog meat for the past 15 years, shared that it is hard to figure out what she should do to sustain. Due to the lockdown, she said that her husband, who is daily wage earner, was left without work.
She also revealed that many of her regular customers would request her to sell the meat as it is believed to be of nutritional and medicinal values. She said that people suffering from TB, Typhoid, and people who were not able to eat other meats depended on the dog meat. With disappointment, she said that she is not able to understand why the ban is only imposed on dog meat and no other animals.
“During this lockdown as we are facing this [health] crisis, in one way even if it is banned, I understand that it may for the good of all. But after the lockdown, it will be good if the ban is not permanent. I wish to put this request to the government,” she added.Dog meat is not just considered a delicacy in Nagaland but has been a part of the traditional cuisine for ages and holds significance in several Naga tribes.
Like the 39 year old woman mentioned, it is also believed to have medicinal benefits. However, there is no scientific explanation to it. Although Nagaland has always been highlighted for the consumption of dog meat, there are several other North-Eastern states and tribes where it is a part of their tradition.
Author, Publisher and senior journalist Vishü Rita Krocha says that the ban will only intensify belief of the people who have looked down on Naga people or have always tagged them as dog-eaters. “Nagas have long been labelled as dog meat eaters. I think the recent government’s decision to ban dog meat has intensified that belief for those who have looked on us only from that perspective. This is despite the fact that many of them do not consume dog meat. I personally do not take it. So, I think it comes down to being a personal choice and taste,” she told EastMojo.
She added: “Traditionally, I am told that wrestlers consume dog meat, in a village like mine before they participate in the wrestling tournament. Dog meat is also one of the sought after commodities for women who have just given birth because it is believed that it helps them regain their health after.”
Krocha also pointed out that “animal cruelty and the consumption of dog meat either as a delicacy or for its health value are totally two different things”. “While the issue of animal cruelty should be strictly dealt with, I think we cannot place the issue of consumption of dog meat on the same page,” she said.
Renowned journalist and author Vir Sanghvi highlighted the ban and its impact through his recent piece “Sorry, but you shouldn’t ban dog meat”. Speaking to EastMojo, Sanghvi mentioned that no one has the right to use the law to impose one’s views at other people.
“I think every society has to make its own decision. For instance, the French eat horse, the Italians eat fox, people in Thailand eat locust and little insects that look like cockroaches. We are no one to pass judgement on any society and what it decides to eat. There is a moral case against eating endangered species, there is a moral case against animals that could cause diseases and yes there is a moral case against veganism. But there is no moral case for selective non-vegetarianism,” said Sanghvi.
According to Sanghvi, “what happens in many societies is that they [people] are concerned with what comes out of people’s mouths–their concern with descent”.
“We must be the only society in the world where our politicians are concerned with what goes into our mouths. You can believe in vegetarianism, you can believe in non- vegetarianism, you can believe in beef eating, dog eating, etc. but you have no right to use the law to impose your views at other people. This is the basic philosophy,” he added.
Dimapur-based journalist Esther Verma is of the opinion that changing food habits is a part of human evolution and dogs cannot be compared to chicken, pig or any other animal.
“The government taking a decision to ban the sale of dog and commercialization of dog meat is a very good step because we evolve with our eating habits and out cultural habits. It is about evolution and at the end of the day dogs cannot be compared to chicken or pigs,” she said.
“I think it is high time that we let go of these things that cause an uproar in our country. Of course this is our culture. Personally I love dogs but I cannot tell my neighbour to stop eating dog meat. We have to carefully thread this situation with, more organically and, understanding rather than going on social media and using words that are not appropriate because it is not going to make the situation any better,” she added.
The government’s decision came after pictures of dogs tied in sacks circulated online. This created an uproar on social media. Politician and animal rights activist Maneka Sanjay Gandhi called for a protest which sought 50,000 emails to the chief secretary in three days — to stop dog bazaars, dog restaurants and dog smuggling into Nagaland.
The state cabinet’s decision also sparked a political debate. GK Zhimomi, general secretary of the Nagaland Pradesh Congress Committee, said that the move is an attempt to appease a section of people and will stock communal hatred.
“This is the problem with the current situation of the country, the uniformity, the conformity. This is stocking social communal hatred this is why we the congress is totally against the action of the government just to appease some section of the people. I wish the government was as prompt in addressing the problems in our state which has been for many years,” he told EastMojo.
The politician questioned: “Why only dogs when so many animals are consumed and this is just a step towards uniformity and conformity which I have said earlier. Nagas here for generations, I am not ashamed of saying Nagas consume dog meat even though I don’t consume and there is nothing to be ashamed of and I don’t know why some people when don’t raise a voice when people are lynched, mobbed, suffering and a variations of stray incidents happens they project the issue to our people in very poor light. This is disgusting and we condemn the selective outrage of those social activists who have more concern for animals than for human beings. Of course cruelty to animals has to be curbed and stopped but at the same time we have to love our fellow human beings more than anything else.”
Citing that India is a country which cherishes unity in diversity, he said that all have to learn to respect and accommodate different cultures and practices.
“Taking the uniformity and conformity, this is literally going to tear the social fabric of the nation and that’s why my appeal is let’s all learn to respect each other culture and traditions and that will make India a better place,” Zhimomi added.
The announcement was first made by Nagaland chief secretary Temjen Toy who took to Twitter to announce the state government’s decision which said that a ban has been imposed on commercial import and trading and sale of both cooked and uncooked meat.
A day after the cabinet’s decision was announced, Toy passed an order which imposed a ban on ‘commercial import and trading of dogs and dog markets’ and ban on ‘commercial sale of dog meat in markets and dine in restaurants’. Notably, it is clear that the ban order makes no mention about the consumption of dog meat.