The Nagaland Dog Meat Ban Controversy: A Socio-Legal Analysis

Shravani Shendye and Karthik Subramaniam

The decision taken by the Nagaland government to ban dog meat raises crucial, conflicting questions on human, and animal rights.

Credit Sangeeta Goswami

On July 3, 2020, the government of Nagaland, a state in northeast India, imposed a ban on the sale of dog meat, both cooked and uncooked. This decision was taken as a reaction to an appeal by the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) to the state government to curb consumption of dog meat in the State. External pressure also came from BJP politician, Maneka Gandhi, and a petition signed by thousands of animal rights activists and dog lovers who urged the Chief Secretary of Nagaland, Temjen Toy to take strict action on the illegal smuggling of dogs into the state, for the purpose of consumption. The Nagaland government, in response to the mounting pressure from the Centre, accordingly imposed the ban.

A similar decision was taken by the state government of Mizoram in March 2020 when it passed the Animal Slaughter Bill, 2020, and removed dogs from the list of animals suitable for slaughter. In contrast, the executive decision in Nagaland is yet to have statutory backing. There are no formal laws in the State that keep a check on dog trading. In contrast, the legal framework in countries where dog meat is consumed viz. China, Indonesia, Vietnam etc., does not explicitly prohibit sale consumption and trading in dog meat. In this context, this article makes a critical analysis of the grey area under Indian law on the consumption of dog meat.

There are different vantage points that have arisen in pursuance of the ban on the sale, consumption, and the smuggling of dog meat in Nagaland. Firstly, the Animal Rights perspective argues for the need to curb consumption of all animals and extends this argument to dogs as well. The subset of this is the “Dog Rights” perspective that calls for a ban, solely on dog meat. Secondly, the Human Rights perspective focuses on the indigenous rights of the local Naga tribe, the primary consumers of dog meat in Nagaland. This article aims to analyse these perspectives from a socio-legal vantage point to compare and contrast the different views on the issue.

The Animal Rights perspective

The two perspectives under the animal rights domain, collectively support the ban against the sale of dog meat in Nagaland. The primary argument is premised on the ill-treatment of dogs and the ruthless killings that are undertaken for dog trading. Stray dogs are abducted, crammed together and smuggled across borders, ill, unfed, afraid, and hurt, to be hanged and slaughtered. They are stuffed in sacks with their mouths tied with ropes. In this context, the primary argument in support of the ban claims that it will help save countless dogs from animal abuse and the abject cruelty that they are subject to.

Another argument prominently made in support of the ban states that such a ban will help prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases akin to COVID-19, SARS, Avian flu etc. Moreover, human health risks from dog meat trade, slaughter and consumption include trichinellosis, cholera and rabies.

The present legal framework provides protection to stray dogs under the following rules: Stray dogs are protected under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960 as it is illegal to relocate stray animals under Section 11(1) (i) and Section 11(1) (j). The Rules enacted under Section 38 of the PCA Act, particularly, the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001 also provide protection to stray dogs. The Stray Dog Management Rules (2001), also prohibits the killing of stray dogs. Additionally, Sections 428 & 429 of the Indian Penal Code prohibits killing, maiming or poisoning of animals valued higher than ten rupees. Dog trading for meat usually is valued in the thousands and thus they are protected under criminal law.

Lastly, Article 51A (g) and Article 48A enshrined in the Directive Principles for State Policy (“DPSP”) under the Indian Constitution establishes an onus on the State and its citizens to have compassion for living creatures. Interpreting these sections, the Supreme Court in Animal Welfare Board of India v. A.Nagaraja declared that every animal has an inherent right to live, with an exception of human necessity. The Apex Court in Re. Animal Welfare Board of India vs. People For Elimination of Stray Troubles & Ors, observed that “….there has to be compassion for dogs and they should not be killed in an indiscriminate manner….”. The Kerala High Court had also stated that “killing of stray dogs has to be undertaken by the local authorities only in accordance with the 1960 Act and the 2001 Rules.” Thus, grounding their arguments in the aforementioned legal jurisprudence, the animal rights and its subset of the dog rights perspective, call for prohibition of dog meat consumption.

However, proponents of a ban on solely dog meat have been criticised for their hypocritical approach and performative activism. This perspective selectively prefers a ban on dog meat while consumption of other animals for mutton, pork, chicken etc. is considered to be acceptable. The law in India at present, following this ideology, distinguishes between animals that can be slaughtered for consumption and those that cannot. A more holistic view is taken by the proponents of the animal rights perspective who demand a complete ban on animal cruelty and further the concept of veganism to prevent the trading and subsequent cruelty meted out to animals.

The Human Rights perspective

The human rights critique offers an insight into the indigenous rights of the tribal people. While the ban was seen as a victory for animal rights, and celebrated by animal rights activists, human rights activists and locals from Nagaland had a different perspective to offer. Dog meat is considered a delicacy in parts of northeast India, especially in Nagaland, amongst the Naga tribes. Descending from a hunting tradition where every meal had to have meat in it, dog meat became a part of the local delicacy. The practice of rearing dogs for consumption has been mentioned even amongst the earliest records of the Naga tribes.

The imposition of a ban on dog meat was hastily done by the Nagaland government based on pressure from thousands of “dog-lovers”, including animal rights activist cum Minister of Parliament Maneka Gandhi. With a certain part of society labelling the dietary choices of another as repugnant and barbaric, it leads to the furtherance of racism and discrimination. The ban furthers the “us versus them” narrative, which has its origins in colonial India and has been pushed for far too long between mainland India, and the northeast. The presence of Article 371A in the Indian Constitution provides the State of Nagaland a certain autonomy in framing laws with regards to its customary practices and traditions, and this was also entirely overlooked. This decision, based on what people in the mainland find to be acceptable, can be put forth as cultural imperialism, with the politically dominant community imposing aspects of its normative culture on the minority community, with the aim of gradual acculturation.

From a legal perspective, Section 11 of the PCA Act prevents the killing and treatment of animals in a cruel manner. Therefore, compassionate treatment of an animal (a dog in this case) leading to a merciful death before consumption should in all purposes not contravene Section 11. It is also pertinent to note the presence of Section 28, which provides an exception for the killing of animals as required by a religious community. With the Naga tribes having customs and beliefs that distinguish them from other religious communities, similar protection must be afforded to them. Section 11(3b) of the Act provides for the culling of stray dogs. In tamer comparison, Naga traditions involve the peaceful death of the animal meant for consumption, and therefore, there should be no reason for the ban on dog meat by the government. In fact, just as other animals are allowed for consumption across the country, if the slaughter of the same has been done according to prescribed animal slaughter standards, there should be no reason for the ban on consumption of dog meat if prescribed standards are followed.

Conclusion

The controversy primarily arose due to the hasty manner in which the state government imposed the ban. The local Naga people, who would be most affected by the ban were not consulted in the decision-making process. As analysed in this article, several different claims and perspectives co-exist, for, and against the ban. However, it is pertinent that the government, as representatives of the people of Nagaland, attempts to rethink the basis for the ban. In the absence of legislative backing for the ban, the government has the opportunity to hold public hearings and consultations, or in any other acceptable manner hold discussions with the primary stakeholders before furthering the ban. Taking everything into account, as a suggestion, a balance between the animal and human rights perspectives can be attempted by the policymakers. The policy in the state could allow selective consumption of dog meat where the dogs are put to rest using a painless procedure. This would not only ensure the protection of the cultural rights of the Naga tribe that consume dog meat but also ensure that the dogs are not subjected to cruelty. It is also important that the law ensures safe transportation and safe harbour of these animals in wet markets. In conclusion, there is a scope for policy-level legal reform in this grey area of law in order to balance the claims of different perspectives in tandem with our constitutional morality and principles of justice, equity and good conscience.


The authors are students at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.

Picture credits: Sangeeta Goswami


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