We Love Dog Meat – So What?

Dog meat is not a taboo. Dog meat is exotic. It is one of the costliest culinary traditions of the Nagas and in parts of the Northeast. A kilo of dog meat costsRs. 350/- or more. Mutton is not even half the taste of it. I bet.

But two natives of Manipur were arrested in South Delhi for killing of a stray dog. What is so sensational about it by the way?

A headline in the national media runs, “Two held for ‘killing, consuming’ dog”. When has “consuming” dog meat become a crime in India? Another national media hyperbolises it as, “brutal killing”. What is so “brutal” about killing a stray dog anyway?

The prevailing assumption that “killing of stray dogs for human consumption” is a “crime” must be an absolute misinterpretation of law.

By the way, Nagas, Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese eat dog meat. So what?

The question is not “why people eat dog meat”, much rather “why do some people even ask why people eat dog meat”.

“The only thing Chinese will not eat with four legs is a table and the only thing with wings, a plane”, goes in China.

Even in some parts of the U.S., across Hawaii in particular, people eat stray dogs. The same is also common in Switzerland, Mexico and French Polynesia.

Even as per the estimate in the year 2014, 25 million dogs are eaten by humans each year worldwide.

Even as the French love frog legs and snails, the Kazakhs and Portuguese love horse meat and the Indians are fond of Mutton. So what?

Coming back to the question of legality, in Re. Animal Welfare Board of India vs. People For Elimination of Stray Troubles & Ors., the Supreme Court of India observed that there “can be no trace of doubt that there has to be compassion for dogs and they should not be killed in an indiscriminate manner, but indubitably the lives of the human beings are to be saved, and one should not suffer due to dog bite because of administrative lapse.”

A prohibition, if any, to be deduced from the above ratio is the “manner of indiscriminate killing” and not “any and every act of killing of stray dogs”.

Killing of stray dogs for “human consumption” is nowhere else defined as crime in the Indian Penal Code, 1860. What is prohibited under Sections 428 and 429 of the Act is “mischief” against animals. To attract the two penal provisions, first, the “act of killing” must constitute a “mischief” as defined under Section 425 of the Act and second, to constitute a “mischief”, the act must be done “with intention to cause wrongful loss/damage to the public/person” and there has to be “actual cause of destruction/change/diminishing of utility of the property”. The term “property” connotes that it must necessarily belong to some “person/public”. But killing of stray dogs “with intention” to “consume as meat” can by no stretch of imagination be considered as an act of “mischief” “with intention to cause wrongful loss to any person/public” as defined and more so because the economic idea of “loss” can hardly be associated with the loss of life of a stray dog.

Nowhere else “killing of stray dogs for human consumption” is also prohibited under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. Again a stray dog is neither a “wild animal”, nor a “scheduled/specified animal” which needs protection under the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972.

What is proscribed under Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, inter alia, is “needlessly mutilates or kills”. By the very nature and object of the Act, “killing of stray dogs for human consumption” cannot be an act of “needless mutilation or killing”.

The point is not to argue that “cruelty” to animals must be glorified, but that every act of killing of animal does not amount to “cruelty”. What is material is the “purpose” in determining what amounts to “cruelty” in law and not in fact.

And if any killing of dog by the lawful owner is permissible in law, “purposive” killing of stray dogs for meat must even more be permissible and more so because stray dogs have no incidence of “ownership” as to attract the concept of “theft”.

Penal laws are to be strictly interpreted. What is not actually written must not be read into by interpretation or by cultural assumption. The laws on protection of animals perhaps need a fresh rethink.


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Sira Kharay Written by:

An advocate practicing in Delhi. An activist, former convener of Northeast Students Organisation, Delhi. Former Vice-President, Naga Students Union, Delhi

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