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A few days back People For Animals, an organization started by BJP MP, Maneka Gandhi, and some mayang celebrities ran a campaign and asked their followers to sign a petition to ban dog meat in Nagaland. Eventually, the Nagaland government banned it. Following this news, the campaigners and their followers who call themselves “animal rights activists” or “animal lovers” are celebrating it as a “win.” Who is winning here? Not sure. It is of course not a win for the animals. On the other hand, the dog meat ban is not a case for animal rights; it is rather a racist display of power. The whole campaign and mayang outrage over dog meat reek of racism and speciesism at the same time.

Not A Case for Animals

One aspect of speciesism is the viewing of some animals above other animals. The sole focus on dog meat by the campaigners out of all the other animals used for consumption is an example and extension of this already existing aspect. It reinforces the idea that dogs are deserving of compassion and empathy but other animals are not. The commodification of dogs as “pets” is celebrated yet commodification of dogs as food is frowned upon while the same about other animals is celebrated. This speciesist bias exists even within most of these “animal rights activists” or “animal lovers” who mostly comprise “pet lovers”. 

The very concept of having a pet refers to ownership of an animal, in most cases dogs or cats. Merriam Webster defines pet as “a domesticated animal kept for pleasure rather than utility.” It stems from commodification of animals for human pleasure and involves domestication through manipulation of their behaviour as humans fancy. Most of the time, it also involves genetic modification and forceful selective breeding, causing various physical harm to these animals. Animal rights activists who do not reject the commodification and ownership of animals usually fail to understand the politics of animal “rights” or liberation. This isn’t fueled by their need for animal rights justice but their inherent speciesist tendency of humanising certain animals over others. Pets are usually bred as fancy commodities for the pleasure of their “owners” – they’re often attached value according to their “breeds”. India still has the problem of puppy mills and unethical breeding of “purebreed” dogs, who are still openly “sold” & “bought” even over the internet. Technically, puppy mills are still legal in India and there has been not enough systematic outrage or attempt at banning such exploitative places. These aspects of “owning pets” are never looked at critically by most of the mainstream animal rights groups including self proclaimed “pet” lovers.

Painting by Pawel Kuczynski. He is a polish artist and cartoonist.

Contrary to their claims of calling themselves “animal rights activists” or “animal lovers”, they are actually speciesists who discriminate against non human animals according to their species membership. It is one of the most hypocritical traits of the dog/cat lovers/rescuers, who continue to participate in the exploitation of other animals but claim a higher moral ground just because they rescue dogs/cats. They are also the same people who resort to the same excuses like “it’s my food choice” and “our ancestors ate meat” whenever the question of actual animal liberation comes up without any barrier on species membership. The “win” they are celebrating only harms other animals as it reinforces the idea that dogs are “man’s best friend” and special, but other animals are consumable commodities. Is it really a win for the animals if the animal rights framework used in this case in itself enforces speciesism?

Racism and Selective Care for Animals

On the other hand, the whole point of dog meat ban is racist in multiple layers. People from northeast have always been ridiculed and discriminated against for their food choices. Based on the speciesist aspect mentioned above, the campaign perpetuates the existing racist narrative in the name of “love for animals”. These mayang “animal rights activists” have maintained their silence at the time of corona racism, even stayed complicit to the extension of AFSPA in Nagaland for 6 more months. Yet, the mayangs only remember Nagaland when they have to speak ill of the indigenous people of Nagaland and bully them by imposing Acts and policies just like what the Indian state has been doing all along with their institutional power.. It is also important to highlight that the mayangs have never bothered to address the issues in northeast even if it concerns the animals they hypocritically claim to love.

Recently, there was a gas and oil leak after the blowout of an oil well in Baghjan oilfield operated by Oil India Limited. It later turned into an explosive fire outbreak. The oil-leak and fire destroyed the land and water bodies, displaced hundreds of residents, and killed hundreds of animals. It also affected Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Maguri-Motapung Beel, an Important Bird Area, killing an endangered gangetic river dolphin, a flying squirrel, many fishes, birds, and reptiles. According to VICE, Deborshee Gogoi of Fridays for Future’s Guwahati chapter said, “We are seeing animals die of suffocation from the smoke, and we’re trying to rescue birds like the pink quail. The [Government of India’s] Ministry for Environment approved this project for profits despite this being an eco-sensitive zone, with a national park and wildlife sanctuary just a few kilometres away. The air pollution could weaken peoples’ respiratory systems and make coronavirus cases in the area life-threatening.”

The carcass of an endangered Gangetic river dolphin suspected to have died from the oil spill before the fire. Photo by Satyajeet Moran.

Following this was the Assam Flood that affected more than 12 lakh people from 20 districts. The flood killed 26 animals including rhinos in Kaziranga National Park and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary. As reported, eight hog deers also died after being hit by vehicles while they came out from the Kaziranga National Park. On top of this, more than half of Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary is under water and rhinos of Kaziranga National Park are moving to highlands. These mayang “animal rights activists” have not voiced their concern neither for the indigenous people nor for the animals.

Environmental Threats and the Mayang Silence

On the other hand is the Dehing Patkai which has been under threat due to illegal coal mining and new projects. The National Board of Wildlife gave conditional clearance to a coal mining project by Coal India Limited in the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve. Being a rainforest, as reported in the Outlook, “Dehing Patkai shelters an array of wildlife: seven species of primates like the Western Hoolock Gibbon; seven varieties of wildcats from the tiger, the clouded leopard to the marbled cat. It has the highest diversity of wildcats anywhere in the world. There are more than 350 butterfly species; above 400 different birds, including White-Winged Duck, Assam’s coy state bird; Hollong, the state tree, and the Fox Tail Orchid, the state flower and the majestic elephant”. Although the Assam government has decided to upgrade Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary into a national park, the rainforest and the wildlife are still at risk.

Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary covers an area of 111.942 square kilometers. Courtesy: Economic Times

In another case, Etalin Hydro Electric Project poses an existential threat for the indigenous people and wildlife of the Dibang Valley of Arunachal Pradesh. If cleared, the project will result in destruction of forest, cutting down over 2.7 lakh trees in Dibang Valley which will cause an ecological threat. Construction of dams under this project will displace Idu Mishmi people whose cultural practices have been protecting the biodiversity of the region. With an exceptionally rich biodiversity, Dibang Valley hosts genetically unique tigers, other Schedule I endangered species, six different colour variations of the Asian golden cat, six range-restricted birds, and other endangered species including Chinese Pangolin and the endemic Gongshan Muntjac. 

Therefore, the coal mining in Dehing Patkai and Etalin project in Dibang Valley will not only displace the indigenous people but also destroy the biodiversity and natural habitat of these animals, which will eventually lead to species extinction. However, these “animal rights activists” have never spoken up against it. The point is not why have they been silent. Rather, it is their inherent speciesism which considers some animals (“pets”) like dogs more valuable than other animals and their racism which has always been the reason behind their selective activism and allyship when it comes to both humans and non human animals of the northeast.

Also, the fact is that the indigenous people are the ones opposing these environmentally destructive projects of the Indian government that endanger nonhuman animal lives. None of these mayang “animal lovers” have even voiced against these state-sponsored projects and negligence that has caused the fire and flood or supported the indigenous people fighting for their own lives and also saving the animals. They have never bothered to even put the word out.

Racist Bullies and Their Display of Power

Another very important observation is that all the environmentally destructive projects in the northeast regions mentioned are done by the Indian state at the behest of the big capitalists while dog eating is by the people of Nagaland in this particular case. So, these campaigners and their cronies choose to be complicit with the ill-doings of their government on a massive scale that is going to destroy the environment, biodiversity, kill hundreds of animals and destroy their natural habitats, and displace indigenous people. Instead, they choose to target the people of Nagaland. Rather than challenging the status quo for a systematic change, they pick on the less powerful and bully the indigenous people. Thus, this whole act is a racist display of power by the bullies. The display of power also cannot be dissociated from the political tension that is going on between Indian government and Nagaland regarding the peace talk and the recent announcement of the whole of Nagaland as “disturbed area” for 6 more months, which means AFSPA for 6 more months after its last extension for 6 months in December 2019. The dog meat ban also shows that India can do whatever they want to Nagaland or any other land in the northeast.

Photo Courtesy: The Sentinel

Amid this, a person named Hema Chowdhary publicly said on social media to boycott Nagaland and threatened the people of Nagaland that she would behead any Naga person if she ever came across any. Many mayang echoed similar hatred in the comments. Imagine the same being said by someone from northeast about the people in the mainland. One can even take into consideration the case of Imphal-based journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem who was slapped with NSA and put behind bars for criticizing BJP. He spent 132 days in jail for a social media post. However, this person named Hema Chowdhary is still roaming around freely with no repercussions of what she has said to the whole of Nagaland. One can clearly see the power and privilege of these mayang as compared to the people from the northeast.

Lastly, one very important aspect that needs highlighting is that these mayangs are no different from the white people when it comes to racism and animal rights. Just like the mayangs, the white people have also been protesting the Yulin dog festival in China, in particular, while different forms of animal slaughter and exploitation happen in their own countries. Many have criticized and called out the speciesism and racism in such targeting of a community and enforcing the idea that dogs are more important than other animals. Such behaviour also exposes the saviour complex of the mayang and the whites. Therefore, the feelings are mutual for the mayangs and the whites when it comes to the matter of racism, speciesism, and saviourism.

Thanks Aura Devore for your help.