Advocacy groups in 2020 again claim the same “victory” they claimed in 2016––which never happened
KOHIMA, Nagaland, India––Two weeks after Nagaland chief secretary Temjen Toy on July 3, 2020 announced an impending ban on dog meat, in the last part of India where dogs had been legally eaten, how, when, and if the ban will be enforced remains uncertain.
That has not kept major animal advocacy organizations, both in India and around the world, from claiming a “victory” which has yet to be enshrined in law, and was previously announced, without enforcement following, as recently as July 2016.
Moved by politics more than plight of dogs
Reality is that Temjen Toy, heading the People’s Democratic Party of Nagaland, spoke at least in part to bring his government into alignment with the positions of the Bharatiya Janata Party, ruling India since 2014. This was a good strategic move for the head of a state in dire need of every sort of federal aid available, and in part, as well, to demonstrate concern about conditions in live animal markets in response to COVID-19.
To the extent that animal advocates can claim credit for whatever progress the Temjen Toy decree represents, by far the greater part of the effort and risk involved in documenting and exposing the Nagaland dog meat has been done by regional and local activists. Until recent years those activists have received scant help and attention from the outside world.
Temjen Toy “declared that the [Nagaland] state government has decided to ban the commercial import and trading of dogs, dog markets and also the sale of dog meat, both cooked and uncooked,” reported Asia News International of New Delhi.
Mizoram banned dog meat earlier in 2020
“Earlier this year,” Asia News International added, “the state of Mizoram,” south of Nagaland, “took the first step towards ending the sale of dogs [there], by amending legislation to remove them from the list of animals suitable for slaughter.”
The Temjen Toy edict, Asia News International explained, “comes after the image of dogs being sold at Dimapur markets,” Dimapur being the largest city in Nagaland, “surfaced online on social media, causing an outcry.”
But the outcry of late June and early July 2020 was hardly the first time that an exposé of dog meat trafficking in Nagaland and neighboring states shocked much of the rest of India.
Most of Hindu and Muslim India has, since Vedic times, tended to regard the “tribal” region that now includes the six easternmost Indian states as a land of barbarians.
“Geography is destiny”
Nagaland, since the formation of modern India in 1947, together with Mizoram, Tripura, and the neighboring states of Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh, has been linked to the rest of the nation only by a narrow transportation corridor between the nations of Nepal and Bhutan to the north, and Bangladesh to the south.
The whole of the nation of Myanmar [Burma], which forms the entire eastern border of Nagaland, as well as much of southern China, are geographically closer to the region than New Delhi, the Indian national capital.
Distance from the national decision-makers has in turn magnified linguistic, religious, and other cultural differences. Northeastern Indian resentment of what is simultaneously seen as federal meddling and federal neglect has erupted often into armed insurgency.
Assessed University of Melbourne [Australia] anthropologist Dolly Kikon, herself a Naga, in a July 14, 2020 commentary for the nationally distributed Indian newspaper The Hindu, “What is distinct about the debate [over dog-eating in Nagaland] is the extreme narratives put forward by those who speak of cultural rights to consume dog meat and those who raise the ethical issue of animal rights.
“Of all animals,” Kikon observed, “stray dogs in contemporary India are the flagships of ethics, care and rights. It is also street dogs whose experiences and existence blur the boundaries between the domestic sphere and the outdoors.
“Everyday food choices,” Kikon continued, “force us to deal with broader issues of caste violence and ultra-nationalism. For instance, the cow is most revered and those who clamor for cow protection have gone to the extent of weaponizing the animal. Cow protection vigilantes have promoted a militaristic Hindutva nationalism,” at times lynching lower caste and tribal people suspected of selling cattle to slaughter in Bangladesh, a beef-eating Muslim nation.
“Cowboys & Indians”
Conversely, cattle traffickers have for decades occasionally martyred anti-slaughter activists, in a literal running battle of cowboys and Indians.
“Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kikon wrote, “the focus on meat as a likely cause of spreading the virus in India has become sharper. Across north-eastern India, including Nagaland, there have been government notifications banning the import of pigs. In the case of banning dog meat, the argument for animal welfare (saving dogs from suffering) was accompanied by the description of dogs as filthy, potentially ridden with disease, and therefore, unfit for consumption.”
This was scarcely the only paradox pertaining to the status of dogs.
“Dog meat is not central to Naga diet,” Kikon pointed out. Though Nagas traditionally eat more meat than most Hindus of the educated castes, dog meat “is a rarity,” Kikon explained, “and a large number of Naga households do not consume it.
“We will protect the dogs but not Nagas”
“Yet,” Kikon objected, “the dog meat narrative has become a tool for inciting violence, hate and racism against tribal communities. That the ban on dog meat has come on the heels of the extension of the Armed Forces Powers Act,” which has kept much of eastern India under military occupation since 1958, “seems to send out the message, ‘We will protect the dogs but not Nagas.”
Kikon warned that while announcing an enforced end to the Nagaland dog meat trade may give animal advocates hope “that this would bring about an end to the miserable treatment of dogs in the state, I fear that will not be the case. Anger and outrage after the ban cautions us of the possibility of unfolding of a different reality—the urge to eat dogs to prove one’s culture, to corrupt the moral victory that has been pushed down” Naga throats.
“For ordinary citizens in Nagaland who are unable to obtain basic rights like health and education, “ Kikon explained, “the ban on dog meat has come as a culmination of a humiliating move in which the state machinery caved in to the demands of animal rights groups who are far removed from Nagaland, but are able to control the cultural practices of Naga people. If the ban on cow slaughter became a legitimizing move to persecute religious minorities, the dog meat ban represents a moment of civilizing savages.
“All animals sold in open markets suffer similar conditions”
“The debate on dog meat has blurred the lines between the voices of right-wing Hindu nationalism and animal rights activism,” Kikon repeated. “This is important for us to reflect upon, because if at all we seek solidarity and open new conversations about value and ethics, it will be with the latter group,” meaning animal advocates.
“If there is something we can learn from the ban on dog meat,” Kikon finished, “it is the suffering and cruelty that animals sold at open markets experience everywhere. What the Nagaland markets failed to do,” that outraged the world beyond animal advocates, “was conceal and distance dogs from other animals meant to be prepared for consumption. Dogs were tied next to chickens, ducks and pigeons. Nor was their meat packed in fancy bags or branded as ‘organic’ or ‘free range.’ Yet the civic national outrage was limited only to the dogs, irrespective of the fact that all live animals sold in open markets across India suffer similar conditions.”
Celebrating appearance of success
Rather than grapple with the political, sociological, and even the practical aspects of the Temjen Toy announcement, spokespersons for the Indian national animal advocacy organization People for Animals [PfA] and the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations [FIAPO] merely celebrated the appearance of success, in a campaign that some regional PfA and FIAPO affiliates had indeed waged for decades, even as the biggest PfA and FIAPO campaigns were focused elsewhere.
The U.S.-based organizations People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA] and Humane Society International, an arm of the Humane Society of the United States [HSUS], also claimed credit. Both have long had Indian offices, albeit far from Nagaland, and both have campaigned against dog consumption in Nagaland, but neither appears to have had a decisive role in actually moving the dog meat trade toward an end.
PETA funded investigation in 2005
PETA was first to become involved.
“In 2005,” recalled news cameraman Azam Siddiqui, who is from Assam state, adjacent to Nagaland, “PETA/India chief functionary Anuradha Sawhney asked me to investigate this trade. I was joined by PETA/India investigator Tejal Shah. who came from Mumbai. Together we went to Dimapur.
“I had told Tejal what she would be witnessing, and to be prepared for heart-wrenching sights and to control her angst and emotions.
“All set, we entered [the marketplace]. I started recording video while Tejal clicked pics on her aim-and-shoot camera. Within seconds I could see Tejal’s eyes going moist, her face turning red with anger, and then tears started gushing that would just not stop.
The traders saw this too, and before they could react, I whisked Tejal and myself out of the market,” Siddiqui finished.
“Guilt of failure”
Siddiqui remains haunted by “The eye contact I made with the dogs I filmed, their mouth tied with strings. I failed to save them then, and even today I live with that terrible guilt of failure.”
A year later, after nothing much had come of the documentation that Siddiqui and Shah gathered, Siddiqui on December 24, 2006 emailed to the now defunct Asian Animal Protection Network [AAPN] listserv, asking the several hundred AAPN members to review his “exclusive pictures of a dog market in Dimapur, Nagaland.”
Explained Siddiqui, “These dogs are mostly supplied from the neighboring northeastern states. The Nagaland government, despite several petitions from animal welfare/rights organizations and individuals in India, has not taken any steps to stop this age old practice.”
Siddiqui hoped that the AAPN readership might encourage “the Animal Welfare Board of India or the Central Government” to “take strict measures to control this menace.”
“The government is aware, but keeps mum”
A similar message followed three weeks later from Brinda Upadhyaya, president of the Association for Service & Healing of Animals in Mumbai, even farther west of northeastern India than New Delhi, drawing AAPN members’ attention “to a telecast by India TV on 15 Jan 2007 on ‘Alert view’ around 10 p.m..”
The broadcast documented, Upadhyaya said, how “A flourishing dog meat market in Shillong, Meghalaya state, openly catches dogs most cruelly and stuffs them into gunny bags with their limbs tied and faces peering out, eyes awaiting buyers who will take them home to slaughter for food”.
Said Upadhyaya, “This horrible TV program left me miserable and restless. The government is aware of the illegal trade, but chooses to keep mum.”
Torch-lit protest march
Activism against dog-eating in northeastern India meanwhile gained momentum in New Delhi as result of incidents at the Kaveri Hostel on the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus, first reported in 2006, in which students from Nagaland allegedly captured, killed, and ate local street dogs.
Following a torch-lit protest march through downtown Delhi, acting dean of student welfare V K Jain on July 8, 2008 expelled the chief suspect, a 30-year-old fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in political science named Yoronso Ngalung. Ngalung appears to have finally published his dissertation in 2010.
But while the Delhi protests raised the profile of dog-eating in Nagaland in western India, contributing to negative stereotypes of Nagas, they appear to have accomplished nothing much in eastern India, both within Nagaland and in other places where dogs were and are eaten.
Dog slaughterhouses closed due to use of child labor
The Telegraph, of Kolkata, West Bengal, in December 2008 mentioned the disappointment of People for Animals regional representative Lucy Vanlalruati Hmar that “Most political parties in Mizoram have skipped the issue of environment and animal rights, leave alone the right of dogs not to be devoured.
“PfA is waging a lone war against the selling and consumption of dog meat in the state,” The Telegraph reported. “As in Nagaland, dog meat is a delicacy for some in Mizoram. A kilo of dog meat is cheaper than pork and beef. PfA has forced the authorities to close down two dog slaughterhouses,” The Telegraph noted, but the closures were apparently because the slaughterhouses illegally used undocumented immigrant child labor.
Assamese “have no history of eating dogs”
The Telegraph, Azam Siddiqui, believed, insufficiently distinguished the dog-eating parts of northeastern India from those in which dogs are not eaten.
“The writer should have noted that the people of Assam do not have any history of dog meat consumption,” Siddique complained in a letter to the editor. “In fact, the Assamese community have been been fighting to save homeless dogs from being consumed by the natives of Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Manipur.”
Fingers were again pointed toward Nagaland, in particular, in July 2010 in Hyderabad.
Summarized Times of India News Network reporter G. Arun Kumar, “Dogs are mysteriously disappearing from the streets. Police officials believe this might have something to do with the Nagaland Armed Reserve battalion,” which “has been posted for the byelection duty in the district.”
The 130 Nagaland Armed Reserve personnel were alleged to have consumed “30-40 dogs.”
“Send homeless dogs to Nagaland, Mizoram, & China”
This and similar incidents in February 2012 inspired legislator Anil Joshi, a member of the usually pro-animal Bharatiya Janata Party, to inquire from Punjab, nearly 1,700 miles west of Nagaland, as to whether whatever law allowed dog-eating in Nagaland could be used to kill problematic homeless dogs in his own district.
A second Punjab legislator, Ajit Singh Mofar of the Congress Party, then recommended that homeless dogs be sent to “Nagaland, Mizoram and China where they are more needed.”
Rebutted Amity University senior lecturer Walunir, who like many Nagas uses only one name, “Nagas are very well aware of the nature of love and affection they get from their pet dogs. In most homes in Nagaland, dogs are fed with the same food the owners eat.”
Walunir acknowledged that some Nagas do eat dogs, but insisted that, “Dog meat is not a delicacy in any household and does not find a place in any menu of hotel or restaurant in Nagaland.”
Humane Society International claimed “victory” in 2016
The Humane Society International arm of the Humane Society of the U.S. became involved in July 2016, when HSI/India managing director N.G. Jayasimha released shocking video of dogs tied into burlap sacks, with only their heads sticking out and their muzzles tied shut, taken, he said, “at local markets in Kohima [the Nagaland capital city] and Dimapur.”
For a few days the HSUS video, though differing little in content from the Siddiqui video of 11 years earlier, appeared to have been politically effective.
Reported The Hindu on July 11, 2016, “The Nagaland government is in the process of banning the use of dog meat as food in the State and directives have been issued to the Urban Local Bodies [town councils] to this effect. The state cabinet has not yet taken any decision on the matter,” The Hindu qualified, “but the government, through a letter issued by Joint Secretary Obangla Jamir,
has asked the Joint Director of Directorate of Municipal Affairs,” one A. Zanbemo Ngullie, to issue an order to all the Urban Local Bodies to give wide publicity to care for animals and also to issue an order to stop capture of dogs for the purpose of slaughter and meat.”
No one was actually ordered to do anything
The letter, however, turned out to have merely been forwarded to 23 administrators of municipal and town councils more than two months earlier, on May 3, 2016, unaccompanied by “any direct order” obliging the recipients to actually do anything.
“Soon after we released the video,” Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block on July 6, 2020 blogged of the 2016 campaign, “we wrote to the Nagaland chief minister urging the government to implement the ban on dog meat consumption, patrol trade routes and shut down markets. We also launched an online petition calling on the authorities to enforce the dog meat ban immediately. Over the years we have helped rescue more than 150 dogs from this trade in India and placed them into loving homes with the support of local partners,” Block said.
Dogs caught locally, not brought from afar
Block was at the time president of Humane Society International, ascending to the presidency of HSUS itself two years later.
Without mentioning that nothing whatever ultimately came of the 2016 effort, Block suggested that the Tamjen Toy promise of a dog meat ban “would end the terrible suffering of approximately 30,000 dogs who are smuggled each year into Nagaland from around India, most of them stray dogs and stolen pets.”
Block had apparently neither consulted a map, nor realized that dogs are scarcely in such short supply anywhere in eastern India as to make long-haul transport “from around India” practical or profitable.
“We must be very vigilant”
Dog-eating in Nagaland next surfaced as an issue in January 2017, when two Nagaland Armed Police constables, Vihuto Awomi and Vi Toho, reportedly were disciplined for allegedly cooking cats, dogs, and a monkey captured from the streets of Delhi in the Central Police Radio Training Institute kitchen.
Again, as often in the past, western Indian animal advocates responded with generalized outrage against Nagas, while Nagas in Nagaland appeared to pay no attention.
Concluded Azam Siddiqui, of Temjen Toy’s pledge, “What now needs to be seen is how this ban is expected to play on ground. Forcing a tradition to end just like that by a government ban would certainly generate a huge backlash, so we must be very vigilant, continue our investigations, and be observant of new games and tricks by the dog trade mafia.”