Politics

NE Dispatch: Tragedy Strikes Family in Meghalaya; Maneka’s Call for Dog Meat Ban Draws Ire

A round-up of what’s happening in India’s Northeast.

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Maneka Gandhi. Credit: PTI

Nagaland: Maneka Gandhi’s letter to DoNER minister to ban illegal trade and consumption of dog meat in Nagaland and Mizoram draws ire

Armed with an ambition to seize power in the Northeast, the BJP may have relaxed its demand to ban beef in those states, but senior party member and minister for women and child development Maneka Gandhi made an official objection to eating dog meat – a delicacy in Nagaland.

Earlier this month Gandhi wrote a letter to Jitendra Singh, the minister of state for development of north eastern region (DoNER), urging him to look into the “illegal” consumption of dog meat and into the “illegal” trading of dogs for this purpose in Nagaland and Mizoram.

The letter claimed that those involved in the trade also dealt with narcotics and arms trafficking, and called for an investigation by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

According to news reports, Gandhi cited the Food Safety and Standards Regulation, 2011 to term the consumption of dog meat “illegal and cruel”. The regulations do not allow for the killing of dogs, cats and other animals for food.

The letter stated that “There is not only illegal smuggling and slaughter of dogs but also smuggling of arms and ammunition along with narcotic drugs, blatantly carried out by the same gangs. This is a serious cause for concern for the security of the region and I suggest that agencies such as the NIA must be asked to establish the persons involved in this thoroughly organised racket.”

Gandhi – an avid animal lover – also described in the letter the cruel handling of dogs while they are smuggled for consumption. “In Nagaland alone, more than 30,000 dogs are illegally smuggled from neighbouring states in jute sacks where they have their mouth either tied our stitched shut. These animals are starved with no food or water and brutally beaten to death before they are torched and sold as meat to consumers,” she wrote.

Gandhi backed her conclusions by a survey that was conducted in Nagaland by a non-governmental organisation called Humane Society International. According to the survey, each day at least 40 dogs, and each year 15,000 dogs are sold in Kohima and Dimapur. The survey states that a kg of dog meat costs Rs 200 in these cities and their consumption peaks around Christmas.

The letter also mentioned that the Mizoram government issued an order in 2007 to stop the illegal trade of dogs but that order was never implemented.

Gandhi’s letter met with strong objection from Nagaland’s apex social body Naga Hoho. “The Indian laws, whether they are related to religion or food habits, cannot be imposed in Nagaland. Nobody can stop us from eating dog meat. We have been eating it since the time of our forefathers. We view it as medicines,” Naga Hoho president Chuba Ozukum told local media. “Enforcing a ban on its sale and consumption will not be possible. We will oppose it. The entire Naga population will oppose it.”

Earlier this year, the state government had received a legal notice “from one Somaya from Guwahati, Assam” for allowing the “illegal sale” of dog meat following which the chief secretary Pankaj Kumar held a meeting with the senior officials from the department of veterinary and animal husbandry, health and family welfare, municipal affairs and food safety standard and the state animal welfare board. 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.”

A day after the meeting, A. Zanbemo Ngullie, joint director and head of the Directorate of Municipal Affairs, asked his office to direct the urban local bodies (ULBs) accordingly.

Speaking to The Wire from Kohima, Toshimanen Ozukum, the additional joint director at the municipal affairs directorate in charge of the ULBs, confirmed sending out letters to the local bodies but added that, “The ULBs, however, are yet to take action on it.”

Ozukum expressed his apprehension at the orders being successful on the ground. “It will be very difficult to implement it. A large number of people across the tribes eat dog meat in the state.”

Many Nagas consume dog meat in the belief that it cures tuberculosis and gives strength.

Meghalaya: A pregnant woman and her five children die from electrocution

A pregnant woman and her five children died of electrocution in Meghalaya’s East Khasi Hills district on October 27.

Although they were suspected to have been killed due to the leakage of electricity from a nearby transformer that passed through their house, the district magistrate Peter S. Dkhar said soon after the incident that the cause of the deaths was yet to be ascertained.

“I have ordered an inquiry by the block development officer to ascertain the exact cause of the deaths,” he told local media. The preliminary report later gave the cause of death as lightning.

Trisdolin Shangpliang, 35, and her children – who were between the ages of nine years and seven months – were residents of the district’s Nongthymmai Neng village.

Renowned social activist Agnes Kharshiing, who visited the village and the deceased’s house for a fact-finding mission on October 29, told The Wire, “While the deaths happened due to the negligence of the MeECL (Meghalaya Energy Corporation Limited), it is unfortunate that the state government is blaming it on lightning and trying to bury the issue by declaring a compensation of Rs 6 lakhs to the family.”

She added that she “met Trisdolin’s husband Tirot Khyriem. They had 11 children out of which five died with the mother. On returning from the fields at about 4 pm on October 27, he found them lying on the ground, electrocuted. One of his daughters was also hurt in the leg but survived. Fortunately, a village man Seibor Shangpliang had the presence of mind to take a stick and hit the wires of the transformers. Had he not done that, more lives would have been lost that day.”

Credit: Agnes Kharsiing

One of Trisdolin Shangplian’s daughters was also hurt in the leg but survived. Credit: Agnes Kharshiing

Upon visiting a few other houses that had been affected by the heavy voltage that day, she said that she saw “some of the electricity meters completely melted. The transformer was not fenced properly [and] there were no fuses, no cut-outs. On further inquiry, some local electricity department employees revealed to us that after the retirement of the linesmen of the area, MeECL appointed only linesmen on a casual basis [who] were left to cover many villages with the daily wages given to them and no extra money to meet the cost of travel. They also said that there was no response to their demands for new transformers, cut-outs, etc.”

Power points at the transformer with no cut-outs. Credit: Agnes Kharsiing

Power points at the transformer with no cut-outs. Credit: Agnes Kharshiing

A group of civil society organisations have planned to hold a candlelight vigil in Shillong on November 3 to demand action against MeCEL for having caused death due to its negligence.

Attempts by this correspondent to reach out to MeECL on the issue met no response.

Arunachal Pradesh: Khandu government accused of blocking Congress candidate from fighting by-polls 

Even though it has been a while since Congress leader Pema Khandu ditched his party and took his fellow legislators to the People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA) in order to form a government allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), the power struggle between BJP-PPA and Congress seems to be continuing in Arunachal Pradesh.

At a press meet in Itanagar on October 31, Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) alleged that the Khandu government was “deliberately holding” the resignation letter of the state public health engineering and water supply department chief engineer Lapalum Kri as he had been chosen by the party high command to fight the coming bye-elections for the Hayuliang assembly seat. The seat was left vacant after the death of former chief minister Kalikho Pul in August.

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Kalikho Pul. Credit: PTI

According to APCC president Padi Richo, Kri resigned from the post on September 5 by availing the department’s voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) and requested the state government to accept his resignation with effect from September 30 “but till date the state government has not approved of it.”

According to local news reports, Richo said, “The Congress high command approved of Kri’s candidature and accordingly he applied for VRS. Surprisingly, the state government is yet to approve of his request in spite of getting all the clearances, including vigilance clearance.”

He added that “Meanwhile, the resignation of the government employee working as a meter reader in the state electricity department, Dasanglu Tulang Pul, was readily accepted as he has been chosen the candidate to contest the by-polls on the BJP ticket.” The state Congress leader claimed that “The NEDA government is afraid of facing Congress in the by-polls sensing strong public support for the party’s candidate.” Pul had won the Hayuliang seat as a Congress candidate.

Richo said that the APCC “has informed the state chief electoral officer about the issue” and Kri had also filed a petition in Guwahati high court seeking relief. He threatened to launch “a series of agitation including a dharna at the civil secretariat entry gate on November 2 if the state government didn’t accept his resignation.”

Richo also mentioned that Pul’s first wife Dangwimsai Pul had also sought a ticket from the Congress. “After failing to get it, she along with Pul’s two other wives joined the BJP.”

Meanwhile, the BJP-PPA government has maintained their silence on the issue.