This is a classic case of cultural imperialism and racism in the name of showing love for animals
Animal activists in the recent past have been campaigning against Nagaland for its dog meat consumption. Its activism led by several organisations like People for Animals this week has stormed social media. It described Nagaland and its people in choicest of caricatures like “…Nagaland has eaten all its own dogs” “dog bazars and the dog restaurants in Nagaland”, which are false.
On July 3, Nagaland government banned the sale and consumption of dog meat in the state.
The news has been applauded by many among animal activists and lovers. However, in Nagaland and adjoining states, people are taken aback over the manner in which the decision was made without taking into consultation from Naga tribes who consume dog meat as a part of their food culture. This also sheds light on how it overlooked Article 371A of Nagaland which bestows Nagaland a special right to allow Naga tribes to practice and maintain their customary law and social practice.
How does eating beef, pork, fish, or chicken make one’s food choice or culture morally acceptable, or not eating any of them? As much as “not eating dog meat” is a part of one’s culture, there are certain communities where dog meat is taken as a part of their food culture.
Mizoram, in the month of March this year, also imposed the ban on dog meat. The ‘dog meat ban’ should not be seen in isolation from beef ban. In the case of beef, its consumption among indigenous communities of Northeast as part of their food culture is well established and known. It shall get to banning of beef in Northeast if animal activism from outside the region continues to have a final say on culture and custom of indigenous people.
Dog meat consumption occurs in Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram and they are in continuity to food culture passed down from their ancestors. Naga tribes do not discriminate animals on the basis of some animals to be more equal than others, and they treat them equally, be it for food or domestication, and they don’t let greed take over them, which may lead to exploitation of animals for more meat or simply commercialisation.
They kill animals for food in the best possible way of not torturing them. A failure to kill at one strike is scolded upon for being irresponsible which makes animal suffer.
It is in the last few centuries to last six decades that commercialisation and interface with mainstream societies (colonialism, AFSPA, racism, etc) exposed them to learn about greed and violence in ways which cause irreparable damages to culture, custom and identity. This greed and cruelty attribute which is now attached to dog meat consumption is also an import from mainstream societies for another round of assault on their existences.
AFSPA was extended in Nagaland a few days ago; coronavirus-related racism still continues, or the Northeast concerns on CAA, etc, do not evoke any degree of empathy and support from animal activists or dog lovers, but they are very vocal when it comes to racism issue related to Black Lives Matter movement. The moral high ground they are at in the name of empathy for dogs, scribbled hate and racist comments against Naga tribes in several posts on social media. The concern towards dog for its meat consumption is hypocritical with crocodile tears while they attribute Naga tribes to be cruel and disgusting for dog meat consumption.
It is a trap to make them feel bad for what they are and of their ancestors whose food culture had withstood the time in living gloriously and survival in the face of colonialism and post-colonial period. The food menu in mainstream societies has no space for indigenous food from Northeast and they are now dictating and having a final say on what not to eat, inadvertently trying to make them feel bad for their food practice. This is a classic case of cultural imperialism and racism in the name of showing love for animals. The inability to acknowledge and accept cultural difference is now new and has subjected thousands of them to racism.
The cruelty, barbaric and disgusting attributes in the light of dog meat consumption, is a part of similar patterns to how ‘ethno’ expression in response to CAA is labelled as ethno-fascist, and when they talk of racism too reverse racism which is a myth is manufactured. So, there is always an attempt to invalidate their voices, experiences and identity.
In this way, why must Naga tribes trust the advocacy animal activists bring in to their hometown? It is the mainland societies who are violent leading to mob violence for varied reasons, and National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data itself contrasts Nagaland from the rest of India.
Then they emote in the name of dog love and care, and they place dog lives to matter more than other animals, including the lives of Naga tribes. Naga tribes should be treated as humans and allowed to live in their own terms and conditions in tune to custom, culture and identity. Food is very intimate to Naga tribes and without its cultural value; they don’t see themselves as Naga by solely eating roti, paneer, papad, khichdi, etc., without meat.
People from colonial period made them feel bad for their attires before introducing so-called clothes of civilised societies; the case of indigenous belief system; replacing rice beer by tea, etc., are all telling of the fact that it is never about allowing them to live and retain their practices. It has been always about making them feel inferior and be ashamed of who and what they are by coercing them to adapt, adopt and accept mainstream cultures as the normal or civilised way.
The dog meat ban should be seen as a point where a need to reclaim indigeneity must come forth and resist the cultural imperialism and racism leading to its dismantling.
(Richard Kamei is a PhD candidate at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed are his own)