India: Cockfights, Jallikattu defy ban with impunity

Pune - Betting accompanies rural spectacle amid police’s unsuccessful bid to enforce crackdown.


Nithin Belle

Published: Wed 14 Jul 2021, 1:09 PM

Several south Indian states such as Andhra Pradesh (AP), Telangana, Tamil Nadu (TN) and Kerala have been defying the cockfight ban in the country with impunity, police said.

There has been a widespread popular interest in the rustic sport, which, usually, accompanies massive betting.

However, the police have been trying to enforce the blanket ban.

On Monday (July 12), acting on the basis of a tip-off, the police raided a cockfight, which was being held at a remote plantation in Kozhinjampara in Kerala’s Palakkad district and four persons were arrested.

Later, roosters, which were used in the fight, were auctioned off for around Dh450.

Traditionally, cockfights are held across southern Indian states, especially AP, also Uttar Pradesh (UP) in the northern parts of the country.

Roosters, which are trained for the lethal fight and fitted with knives and blades, go head up against each other much to the delight of a raucous rural crowd.

It’s an age-old village spectacle and rural pastime, and the sport traces its origin to the Mughal rule in medieval India.

Shreya Paropkari, a Hyderabad-based advocate and the India consultant for Humane Society International, a non-profit organisation, told that the impact of the imposition of the ban on cockfighting by the Indian government under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, which was upheld by the Supreme Court of India (SCI) in 2015, was felt in many states, but not in AP.

She asserted that the public in AP was misled that the sport was a great Indian tradition.

Local politicians in AP also kept the interests alive by inaugurating these fights and events are streamed live by the organisers to encourage betting.

Paropkari pointed out that farmers are lured to the fights and encouraged to bet.

Many hope to make a quick buck, but sadly, most of them squander away their hard-earned money by indulging in gambling.

The cockfights also see exploitation of children, as they are deployed to clean up the mess.

Big crowds turn up at these events where the roosters – mostly from the Aseel breed – are equipped with knives and blades. Aseels, which are found in the southern and eastern Indian states, are known to be pugnacious and are well-fed for days before the fight.

Earlier this year, a farmer in Telangana was killed by his own rooster that he was preparing for a fight. It had a seven-centimetre (cm) knife strapped to its claws and was trying desperately to rid itself of the weapon. The knife pierced the 45-year-old farmer, who died instantly.

Police sources said though the organisers do not openly publicise the events, information spreads rapidly, especially through various social media platforms amid deep penetration of smartphones in India’s hinterland.

The police, who suffer from infrastructure inadequacies, cannot always send their personnel to remote areas to physically ascertain whether cockfights are being held.

Usually, a breakout of a clash between rival groups at cockfight venues often leads the police to spur into action and dispatch a team to quell the mob fury.

However, trends suggest that the rivalry had ended long before the police team could find its way to the venue.

Cockfights are not the only rural spectacle in India.

For instance, TN is the epicentre for the annual Jallikattu event, where hundreds and thousands of boisterous and excited men egg on as bulls ram each other.

Jallikattu has been in the crosshairs of the law and the country apex court, SCI, had earlier intervened, albeit unsuccessfully.

In Assam, north-eastern India’s most populous state, bulbul fights are held near Guwahati.

Many activists have intervened in courts across India to ban such events and they have won favourable judgements in the past as well.

However, implementing them is tough, with the fights attracting hundreds and thousands of men, who unleash a Dionysian spirit as the animals and birds indulge in bloodletting.

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