Nagaland is More Than Dog Meat, Does Mainstream India Care to Know?

The Nagaland government has put a ban on the import and sale of dog meat which has been a delicacy in the region, infuriating the Naga community and deepening its tensions with mainstream India.

Image Credit - Times of India

Local communities in Nagaland are furious because when it comes to their customary food practices and culture even the liberals turn conservative. The whole of the Northeast and states like Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram in particular have shared a complex and not so comfortable relationship with what is known as mainstream Indian consciousness and this has much to do with its intricate socio-cultural, ethnic-racial and sartorial-culinary practices that are extremely unique, diverse and worlds apart from practices in mainstream India. 

There is a large void of communication, exchange and empathy that have further deepened the lack of access to the world that exists in these states. As a result there is mistrust, demonisation, hatred, confusion and prejudice that prevail and reflects cluelessness, lack of understanding and a disconnect that has seldom been bridged. 

We know and understand little of their food and culture, ethnic practices and cultural symbols, ways of life and ways of looking at the world. The recent decision of the Nagaland government to prohibit import and sale of dog meat in the state following serious objections from animal rights activists throughout the country is certainly making people in Nagaland angry and furious. 

Dog meat is traditionally considered a delicacy in parts of Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram and the decision of the government to put a ban on it has generated a wide variety of negative reactions, anger and frustration among the locals who see it as an encroachment on their right to choose their own life practices, and an attempt to generate some sort of a forceful compliance to a culinary culture that looks at the consumption of dog meat to be unhygienic, unethical and barbaric. 

When a section of liberals took to social media platforms and specially came out openly on Twitter to congratulate the government of Nagaland on this move, it brought to light the fact that even the liberals weren’t quite at ease with Nagas consuming dog meat and thought what the government did to be right and justified.

This entire decision by the Nagaland government to ban sale and import of dog meat into the state brings back an important debate on to the table and compels us to ask an important question, if the right to choose one’s food is integral to one’s right to privacy, which in turn is central to the right to live with dignity, then why is this ban being imposed on the people of Nagaland?

Do Liberals become Conservative When it Comes to Naga Food Practices?

People from mainland India including the liberals are supporting the government’s decision but how would they look at the same issue if their own right to food was questioned or their cultural food patterns were forcefully taken away from them to impose something from above forcibly? 

Why are even the liberals uncomfortable and tend to take a conservative stand when it comes to the food consumed by the people of the Northeast, which is one of the most ethnically diverse parts of the country? It is important to note that this kind of ideological stance has its roots in mainland India’s inherent disconnect with the north-east and its inability to make sense of the complexities of the region which have been characterised by a distinctive geography, a unique historical trajectory, culinary and sartorial habits, customs, rituals and traditions.

Yes, a large section of liberals have been very vocal about their opposition to the people of Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur consuming dog meat and they have ardently critiqued the culinary habit calling it objectionable and unacceptable, against the rights of animals etc. 

This food fascism draws from mainland India’s inability to make sense of the life practices of the northeastern states, let alone their distinctive ethnic-cultural nuances. This is a dangerous trend because it further deepens the “us” versus “them” mindset that intensifies hatred and prejudice between the people of the Northeast and people in mainland India, furthering tensions and weakening the already fragile relations between them. 

Many well-known animal rights groups such as the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations(FIAPO) had exerted pressure on the Nagaland government for putting an end to the culture of dog-meat consumption. Excessive campaigning and social media rage, led the government to put a ban on the sale, smuggling and consumption of dog meat in the state and the government has promised to ensure that the ban is strictly imposed and animal welfare becomes a top priority.

Food Fascism or Love for Dogs?

The Constitution of India, in Article 371(A) exempts the state of Nagaland from all Indian laws with regard to its religious and social practices and the Constitution allows Nagas to follow their Naga customary laws. So even if the Naga legislative assembly tries to fiddle with these norms, it is likely to face immense hurdles in convincing and making people abide by the renewed laws. 

There is no doubt about the fact that the local communities of Nagaland are furious about the imposition of mainland India’s food habits on them and forcing them to quit dog meat, which has been a traditional and age-old delicacy in the region.

People have been consuming dog meat in Nagaland for many generations now, it is part of their life and culture and thus it is going to be very difficult for the government to convince people to abide by the new rules.  

Did the Nagaland government just perform a knee-jerk reaction, was it decision a hurried one, will it not outrage the people and further intensify tensions with mainstream India and the Northeast?

There is no such law in India that bans the consumption of dog meat, and in its notation banning dog meat, the state government has cited meat and meat product regulations laid down by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India(FSSAI). 

Owing to under-representation, false media-run propaganda, unfair representations in Bollywood and popular Indian media- the Northeast has been reduced to an ‘esoteric’ land where people consume anything and everything in the name of food. This distorted image of the community has intensified the communication gap and cut down ties between Northeast India and the rest of India. 

Mainstream media has always neglected the issues faced by people in northeast India whether it is floods and natural calamities,  the state of education and healthcare, the extension of the AFSPA in Nagaland or even news coverage and ground reporting from the region has seldom been a priority of our national newspapers and media channels. People who are not from northeast India hardly discuss, debate or wish to know of issues of the region as much as they would be interested in issues and information pertaining to Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

There is certainly much more to Northeast India than dog meat, but we have never bothered to know and explore these aspects.

Tulip Longchar is a Human Rights Activist based in Kohima, Nagaland.

This article draws inspiration and inputs from an article entitled Nagaland’s Dog Meat Ban: When ‘Liberals’ Turned ‘Conservative’ published in The Quint.

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