The ban on dog meat in the North Eastern state may have been the right move but native Nagas argue that it goes against their culture.
It’s international Dog Day, a day to celebrate the special bond between us humans and our furry companions. But while most cultures appropriate dogs as companions, there exist certain cultural spaces where the animal plays a different role, namely as a source of food. Most people may have heard of the Yulin dog meat market in China but within India’s borders, the Naga tribes of Nagaland have consumed dog meat for generations.
In July, the Nagaland Government announced a ban on the commercial sale of dog meat in markets and dine-in restaurants and a ban on the commercial trading of dogs and dog markets. The move sparked positive reactions among the population with people lauding the move by the Nagaland government. The ban came swiftly after a campaign by People For Animals India (PFA), a New Delhi based animal rights group that commends itself as India’s largest animal welfare organization. Former Union Minister and member of the BJP, Maneka Gandhi is the founder and chairperson of this organization. The ban came within 3 days of a viral internet post by the organization. This raised questions among people regarding some form of external pressure being asserted on the Nagaland Government. However, Chief Secretary Temjen Toy clarified that the state government had been contemplating the move since 2014 but due to some “unfortunate political turmoil in the state” the decision took “a back seat” at the time.
The people of Nagaland however were caught off-guard when the news of the ban broke out. Several Naga tribes opposed the decision saying that it went against their cultural and traditional values. 16 major tribes in Nagaland including Ao, Lotha, Chakesang, Angami and Sema have traditionally consumed dog meat as part of their culture. Many tribes believe that dog meat gives strength to people and is believed to hold medicinal value to some tribes. Among the Angami Nagas, dog meat is considered as a sign of prosperity while among Lotha Nagas, consumption of dog meat is believed to help triumph evil spirits. The ban announced by the government was allegedly announced without consulting the Naga tribes or local representatives.
The ban came in the form of an attack on traditional culture and practices of the Naga tribes. Many tribes raised concerns over the decision and asked for the ban to be revoked. The tribes pointed out that the ban was an infringement of section 371(A) under the Indian Constitution. This act provides the North Eastern states with a special status to exercise their own customary laws and practices. However, Chief Secretary Temjen Toy in a statement said,
“We (Nagas) have to evolve ourselves and live up to the times, where we respect animals equally. So there’s no need to bring in the issue of article 371(A) and complicate it.”
The Nagaland dog meat ban seems like a hastily enforced case of cultural appropriation. With no talks within the tribal committees and the government regarding the same, it comes as no shock that the Naga people are unhappy. A practice that has existed for aeons within a culture cannot be taken away in a span of 3 days. Sensitization would have been a more appropriate way to go about before enforcing the complete ban.