Dimapur, August 3: The Naga Scholars Association (NSA) organized its 4th webinar panel discussion on the topic ‘Politics of food’ on August 1. The webinar started with a welcome address by the president of NSA, Dr Zuchamo Yanthan and the introduction of the panelists: Dr Kiranmayi Bhushi, Dr Jelle JP Wouters, Dr Sambaiah Gundimeda, Dr Eyingbeni Humtsoe Nienu and the chairperson Dr Dolly Kikon. The webinar was attended by scholars and intellectuals from different parts of India and across the globe.
The first speaker Dr Kiranmayi Bhushi, who has expertise on ‘food and culture’, explained how food mediates every aspects of the society, by narrating her experience of teaching and introducing the topic of food to her students. She highlighted the food politics by throwing some questions: How do we represent a particular region through its cuisine and does it have to be someone else representation? Dr Kiran argued that these representations often have stereotyped connotation. She further argued that unless the animal in question is on endangered species, the question of banning the meat of any animal is a highly contentious issue.
Dr Jelle JP Wouters who shared his rich perspective on meat by specifically pointing out the dog meat ban in Nagaland in July 2020. Dr Jelle maintained that to legally prescribe a community from eating a culturally validated dish amounts to demanding them to discard a part of their traditional identity. This leads to what is perhaps the most disturbing element of the ban of dog meat. While the unprecedented pressure came from elsewhere, in the end the ban was legislated into existence by the Nagaland government. In doing so, the government entered into the Naga kitchen, which, together with the bedroom, is a sacred space where no government should dare to enter, he said.
Dr Jelle further stated that the ban of dog meat by government of Nagaland is to be seen or understood as making an apology to the nation for the age-old Naga food habits, an apology for the existence of taste buds that are not deemed ‘Properly Indian’. Dr Jelle, further strongly opined that why there was no need for the Nagaland government to ban dog meat even as activists invoked India’s Prevention of cruelty to Animals Act, because Article 371A gave the Nagas the right to preserve their social practice and customs. This also put a question on whether the government of Nagaland has truly understood the special power that is given in Article 371A. Moreover, as much as Nagas should have the freedom to eat what is locally and culturally validated, animal and vagan also activists have the freedom to protect this is in a non-violent manner.
Dr Sambaiah Gundimeda, a political scientist mentioned that the ban on commercialization and import of dog and sale of dog meat cannot be seen as an isolate event that took place in Nagaland but seen from many different angles. He stated that this is a pure case of the larger Hindutva forces to saffronize the Indian public sphere. Thus, the dog meat ban is a link to the larger politics of assimilating the Hindutva politics; to tear apart the multicultural fabric of the Indian nation and destruction of the tradition and culture of India’s indigenous communities, subjugation of the Dalits and other marginalized lots, and also in making the Muslim and Christians communities to a second-class citizen of the nation.
He further stated that the success in banning of dog meat in Nagaland is just the beginning of Hindutva’s larger agendas. Hence, the Nagas should be watchful and stay alert.
Dr Eyingbeni Humtsoe-Nienu argued against the ban of commercialization of dog and its meat by the Nagaland Government on July 3, 2020. Based on her empirical survey, she mentioned that 57% of the 248 people who participated in the survey were dog meat eaters. Thus she started by acknowledging that the topic ‘Politics of Food’ was very relevant for discussion. She admitted that it was the prerogative of the government to formulate regulations to protect the interest of its citizens, but it should be grounded on local factors, not influenced by external bodies like FIAPO and PFA.
She also highlighted that so far there was no dog farming in Nagaland for mass commercialization. She explained that Nagas reared dog along with other animals for meat so there is no meat hierarchy in the Nagas household. But she also reminded that there were Naga homes that kept dogs as pets; in such cases they die of old age or of natural causes and are buried.
Dr Dolly Kikon, chairperson of the webinar summarized the discussion by reflecting on the theme of rights in the twenty-first century. In the light of the dog meat debate in India, she cautioned the racist and hostile language of animal rights organizations and activists in India towards indigenous communities. (Page News Service)