Mid-January ‘Magh’ or ‘Bhogali Bihu’ is Assam’s festival of feasting, but for birds and buffaloes that play a man-made role during the event, the only food is a mixture of intoxicants dominated by marijuana.
The festival is also the setting for bloody fights involving bulbuls and buffaloes and the combatants are drugged prior to the contest “to bring out the fighters within”. It was no different this year.
The Assam forest department ritually warns of action against those capturing bulbuls for ‘festive’ fights during Magh Bihu. Animal rights activists too lodge complaints at police stations to prevent the fights.
However, on Saturday, nearly 400 bulbuls, about 20 cm-long songbirds, fought and people made money off them.
The fights were held on a makeshift platform in the Hayagrib-Madhav temple complex at Hajo, 35 km west of Guwahati. The birds were kept on a leash tied to a cloth belt around their torsos. Handlers goaded each bird with a banana to fight the other.
Animal rights activist Sangeeta Goswami said, “It’s a pity the forest minister (Rockybul Hussain) did nothing despite our memorandum on January 12 seeking a ban on the fight under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.”
Chief wildlife warden Suresh Chand said, “Catching these birds is illegal, and we asked fight organisers to avoid this tradition.” However, locals said no one had the right to meddle with tradition.
Goswami argued, “Should tradition be an excuse for trapping birds with fine, almost invisible nets and feeding them 108 kinds of intoxicants to make them fight to the finish?”
Activists had also moved the authorities to prevent buffalo fights at Ahatguri, 85 km east of Guwahati. However, the fights were conducted on Sunday.