The urge to ‘civilise’ people from the northeast, to make them seem more ‘like us’ is an itch Indian mainlanders can’t seem to get over. The ban on dog meat is the latest example.
The Nagaland government, clearly under pressure, banned “commercial import and trading of dogs, dog markets, and also the sale of dog meat” earlier this month. The ban was applicable to both cooked and uncooked meat. But can you ban something just because others don’t like it being eaten?
A lot of people welcomed the ban, and animal rights activists hailed it as a landmark decision. But as Vir Sanghvi wrote, “Object to one kind of meat and you have made the case for legally-enforced vegetarianism.”
Us versus Them
‘They eat anything and everything’ is used often as a racial slur against northeast Indians, whose diet includes meat/flesh of animals, insects, mammals, that most mainlanders would balk at.
From ants to snails to yes, dogs, various tribes and communities in the region have consumed different kinds of meat for generations, which have been also a marker of their cultural identity.
But the urge to ‘civilise’ people from the northeast, to ‘assimilate’ them still hasn’t left us.
It is the language of ‘activists’ such as BJP MP Maneka Gandhi that ensures we choose the customs we believe are right as the best for everyone in India—pluralism and democracy be damned. Not only that, we also ensure that it is legally enforced. Food is no longer a choice then, it is an imposition.
The activism of it
I would understand if one stood against meat-eating in general—because, no doubt, the rearing, culling, consumption and trade of animals involve deeply cruel practices.
But to eat chicken and pork while tweeting rabidly against dog-meat in China or northeast India is just plain hypocritical.
One of the ‘concerns’ raised was that dogs are a man’s best friend, often kept as pets. Would you kill a pet? But goats, cows, fish and even chicken have been kept as pets too by many in India.
Social psychologist Brock Bastian writes in detail about how humans tend to only eat animals that they believe lack complex emotions, making it easier to forget we’re killing them, or that they feel pain or complex emotions.
Chickens and goats are ‘stupid’ after all, but dogs are so, so wonderful. And therein lies the problem with the ‘pets’ argument. It’s not about pets at all, but our perception of which animal deserves to die, and which doesn’t. Which animal is too ‘cute’ to eat and whose pain we can ignore.
Who decides the ban on dog meat and beef?
In both instances of dog and beef ban, clearly the BJP-led government’s politics, aided by ‘outcry’ of animal lovers, have a part to play.
On 26 May 2017, India’s environment ministry under the Narendra Modi government called for a nationwide ban on the sale and purchase of cattle from animal markets for slaughter.
With that, the word ‘secular’ was trampled upon. It is just one cultural/religious view that sees cows as ‘holy’. For others, beef or pork is just meat, like chicken or mutton. Again, if it’s an animal you respect, don’t eat it — but to make it illegal and force your view down someone else’s throat is no vegetarianism either.
Choice of meat is sometimes as simple as nutrition, compulsion or simply a budgetary call. If one meat costs lesser than the other and is more nutritious according to a community, there’s a chance it will be consumed more.
Level the ‘ban’ ground
If eating dogs is cruelty, poisoning them, setting them on fire is cruelty too. Every day there are stories of dog feeders being beaten up, dogs being attacked, hit and kicked, even in big ‘civilised’ cities such as Delhi and Mumbai, but that evokes no disgust. At the beginning of the coronavirus-induced lockdown, Indians were abandoning their pets by the dozens. And what did we do about it?
I am tempted to ask for a ban on hypocrisy and our discriminatory attitude towards ideas, cultures, customs, especially those of the northeast.
Views are personal.
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