You can wager a bet, the cash crunch and a court ban will have little effect on cockfight — the customary winter pastime of people living in Andhra Pradesh’s two Godavari districts.
The government’s shock recall of two high-value notes is not going to stop residents of these cash-rich districts from betting crores of rupees on their traditional sport during Sankranti festivities, beginning Friday.
It’s a blood-sport with two trained roosters fitted with razor-sharp blades on their legs fighting to death, or until one backs off. The wild party continues for three days.
Thousands of frenzied people participate — rooting for their feathered gladiators. Big businessmen, politicians and rich farmers bet huge money on these roosters.
“Even non-resident Indians come to their native villages during Sankranti to place bets on cockfights. This year, the minimum amount for each game is not less than Rs 1 crore. It goes up to Rs 15 crore, depending on the number of people involved,” said S Ayyappa, an enthusiast from Bhimavaram, a major cockfighting hub in West Godavari.
He gave an estimate: anywhere between Rs 600 crore and Rs 900 crore is wagered in the three days.
The demonetisation drive has deprived punters of hard cash this year. But that has not hit the spirit of the game.
“While small-time punters have already mobilised enough cash for bets, the rich and the NRIs are ready with their laptops to do online transfer of money. Besides, cashless transactions through mobile apps are there too,” Ayyappa said.
In some parts, punters are betting immoveable assets such as homes to beat the cash shortage.
“They have opened new bank accounts in different names and transferring amounts from their accounts. They are using card swiping machines for shops to transfer money,” said Vadrevu Srinivas, correspondent of a local daily at Kakinada in East Godavari.
Cockfight indeed means big business. Hotels are packed. Each room in a mid-size hotel is charging anywhere between Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,000 a day.
“Liquor shops, eateries selling biryani, fast food kiosks and paan shops do brisk business. Entertainment programmes are also arranged for visitors,” Srinivas said.
The protagonists of the show — healthy, aggressive roosters — are commanding a premium price too.
“Each rooster groomed for the fight cost up to Rs 40,000 last season. This year, it’s Rs 1 lakh,” Ayyappa said.
The Hyderabad high court has banned cockfights, saying the game promotes gambling and cruelty towards the fowls. The Supreme Court upheld the ban last week.
Senior BJP leader and businessman Kanumuri Raghurama Krishnam Raju, who challenged the high court order in the top court, said the game goes on despite the ban.