The state government may have the legal backing to enact a ban on dog meat, but will likely face public opposition to its implementation.
New Delhi: At a time when cow protectors are demanding a countrywide ban on the sale and consumption of beef, a petitioner has not only served a legal notice to the Nagaland government for allowing the “illegal sale” of dog meat but has also seemingly succeeded in pushing the state machinery towards achieving that goal.
According to sources in the state secretariat, the government received a legal notice from “one Somaya from Guwahati, Assam, represented by an advocate named N. M. Kapadia” early this year. “However, nothing else has been revealed about the identity of the petitioner.”
“On March 3, Nagaland Chief Secretary Pankaj Kumar held a meeting on the legal notice with the senior officials from the departments of veterinary and animal husbandry, health and family welfare, municipal affairs and food safety standard and the state Animal Welfare Board. Instead of looking at fighting the case, Kumar suggested those present in the meeting to look at the possibility of banning sale and consumption of dog meat in the state,” the sources say.
According to a March 11 news report in the Dimapur-based Nagaland Page, Kumar asked the health and family welfare department “to check whether killing and eating dog meat is an offence under the Food Safety And Standards Act 2006,” and also directed the animal husbandry department “to discuss the matter with the state level Society for Prevention and Cruelty to Animals.”
At the meeting it was also decided to look into whether Article 371 (A) of the constitution could override the central government regulations under the Act.
Article 371 (A) bestows special status to Nagaland to protect the customary traditional practices of the people of the state from any Act of parliament.
The turn of events since then suggests that the state government has found enough legal backing to proceed with banning the sale and consumption of dog meat in the state. On May 2, joint secretary Obangla Jamir issued a letter to the Directorate of Municipal Affairs “to give wide publicity and issue an order to stop capture of dogs for the purpose of slaughter and meat, to stop the bazaars meant for selling dogs or dog meat and to treat animals with care and love”.
A day later, A. Zanbemo Ngullie, joint director and head Directorate of Municipal Affairs, asked his office to direct the urban local bodies (ULBs) accordingly.
Speaking to The Wire from Kohima, Toshimanen Ozukum, additional joint director at the municipal affairs directorate in charge of the ULBs, confirmed sending out letters to the local bodies two weeks ago. “The ULBs however, are yet to take action on it,” he added.
Ozukum expressed his apprehension at the orders being successful on ground. “It will be very difficult to implement it. A large number of people across the tribes eat dog meat in the state.”
A Kohima Municipal Council functionary, who chose not to be named, said “Although we have received the order, we are yet to implement it because we know there will be public opposition to it. It can lead to violent situations. Dog meat is a delicacy meat for most Nagas. It will be an infringement on their right to eat a traditional food. Many eat dog meat also for its medicinal properties”.
That aside, he said, “there is also the question of [the] livelihood[s] of those who sell dog meat. Where will they go?” He added that “Nagas don’t torture dogs before killing them to eat. The animal is killed like any other animal is killed for meat. So the question of cruelty to animals do not arise”. He is now worried that “the public resistance can turn into a movement.”
“Our people are slow in reacting to an issue but when they do, they get serious about it. This decision can bring trouble to the [T.R.] Zeliang government,” he said.
Zeliang’s Naga People’s Front (NPF) is a part of the the North East Democratic Alliance, the BJP’s regional political alliance. The BJP is banking on the NPF to not only enter a Christian-dominated Nagaland but also make headway into the Naga-dominated hill districts of Manipur, which goes to the polls next year.
The practice of consuming dog meat may be on the wane among some young urbane Nagas as they see dogs only as pets and do not want them to be killed for meat but it is still a popular variety of meat, particularly among a large number of Angami, Sumi and Ao Nagas. Dog meat sells for around Rs 300 a kilo in the local bazaars, and many restaurants and hotels sell a variety of dishes made from dog meat.
However, the latest legal notice aside, many animal activists, particularly from Assam, have been opposing the practice of consuming dog meat for decades. Sangeeta Goswami, head of the Guwahati chapter of the People for Animals (PFA) says, “I have been demanding a ban on dog meat in Nagaland since the late 1970s. Since dog meat is not farmed in Nagaland, most dogs are illegally caught from Assam and Meghalaya and sent to Nagaland and Manipur for slaughter and consumption,” she told The Wire. “Nearly 200 dogs are smuggled to these states every week. It is illegal under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act”.
Goswami said she and her team “have been rescuing dogs from the border areas for many years now.” According to a survey conducted by PFA Guwahati in 2008, “the number of stray dogs in Assam went down from 23,000 in 2002 to less than 14,000”.
“There are now many areas in Guwahati city where there are no stray dogs because of the illegal trade,” she claimed. The PFA Guwahati website features photos of dogs allegedly being smuggled to Mizoram, as well as a photo of a woman who Goswami said, “was caught by our group with 40 dogs in gunny bags and handed over to the police in 2007”.
She also explained the modus operandi of the trade. “Typically, the smugglers use unemployed local youth in Assam and Meghalaya to catch the strays. Even if people see the act, they don’t react much because they feel strays are good riddance. These youths are paid Rs 100 per dog which the smugglers sell for about Rs 1000 in Nagaland and Mizoram.”
According to Monalisa Changkija, editor of the Nagaland Page, “The government should certainly go after the alleged illegal trade. That there is an alleged inter-state illegal trade shows the lack of governance in Nagaland. But going after it is different from the government trying to stop people from having what they have been traditionally having. What about those people who rear dogs at home for meat? Will they also be banned from eating it? The government’s job is not to play policeman in every family”.
Goswami, however, countered Changkija’s comment. “Once there was cannibalism. That was also tradition.” Moreover, “dog meat is not among the meats in the list of permissible food items”.
“These are actually diversionary tactics of the Nagaland government. Instead of engaging in what people should eat and what not, it should concentrate on maintaining law and order in the state, tame the rampant corruption, provide basic facilities and infrastructure to the people, the reasons why it was elected in the first place,” Changkija said. “What is the government doing about the latest oil adulteration racket? Why is it not probing who are behind it?” she asks in references to a fuel adulteration racket that was busted in Dimapur. Thousands of litres of kerosene meant for subsidised supply were allegedly being siphoned off from the state food and civil supplies department to mix with petrol and diesel being sold in the state.
The Wire’s attempt to contact the chief secretary’s office on the issue of dog meat failed to elicit any response.