Andhra Pradesh kept its date with the gory sport of cockfighting on Friday as thousands of people celebrating Sankranti enthusiastically cheered and placed bets on the bloody duels held across hundreds of villages, defying a ban on sports involving cruelty to animals.
Though the state government last week had given an undertaking to the Hyderabad high court that it would take all steps to prevent cockfights, roosters with sharp razors fitted to their claws were made to fight each other, particularly in the districts of East Godavari, West Godavari and Krishna of coastal Andhra.
At least three Telugu Desam MLAs and one party MP were among VIPs who inaugurated the cockfights. “Cockfight is part of Telugu people’s tradition. It is only the betting which is illegal,” said TDP legislator Chintamaneni Veeranjaneyulu.
Unofficial estimates pegged the total bets placed during the day at more than Rs 100 crore. People bet money on one of the two roosters and the fight usually ends with the death of one of the birds.
Giant LED screens were put up at many of the venues lit up by floodlights.
While some celebrities kept their visits to the game a secret, film producer Kodandaram Reddy said, “The cockfights are nothing new. People have been organising it for fun during Sankranti. Why should anyone have objection to it?”
Traditional rural sports involving animals had been in the spotlight in recent weeks since politicians in poll-bound Tamil Nadu began clamouring for a revocation of the Supreme Court ban on Jallikattu, the sport of bull taming, during this year’s Pongal. Intense lobbying by politicians that included chief minister J Jayalalithaa prompted the union government to order a relaxation, but the Supreme Court earlier this week stayed the move much to the delight of animal rights groups.