Coastal Andhra gears up for cockfights despite court orders, strict police vigil
Thousands of frenzied people, mostly big businessmen, politicians and rich farmers, participate in the cockfights, betting huge money running into crores of rupees during the three-day festival of Sankranti or Pongal.india Updated: Jan 02, 2018 17:40 IST
Andhra Pradesh’s East and West Godavari districts are gearing up to celebrate cockfights during the three-day festivities from January 13 to 14 despite repeated directions from courts against the customary winter sport and strict warnings by the police.
The cockfight, which is often compared to the controversial Jallikattu or the bull-taming game of Tamil Nadu because of the strong sentiment attached, involves two trained roosters fitted with razor-sharp blades on their legs fighting to their death, or until one of them backs off.
Thousands of frenzied people, mostly big businessmen, politicians and rich farmers, participate in the cockfights, betting huge money running into crores of rupees during the three-day festival of Sankranti or Pongal. A large number of NRIs from these cash-rich Godavari districts also descend on their native villages to participate in this traditional form of gambling.
The Hyderabad high court banned the cockfights last year on the ground that it involved cruelty towards the birds as making them participate in such a game was nothing but subjecting them to unnecessary pain and suffering.
However, the Supreme Court stayed the ban and directed that the game could be allowed as long as it did not involve the fitting of blades to their legs and betting of money.
On Tuesday, the Hyderabad high court admitted yet another petition alleging that gambling on a large scale had been going on in the West Godavari district in the name of cockfights. The court sought a report from the district administration and police on the allegations.
Senior BJP leader and businessman Kanumuri Raghurama Krishnam Raju, who filed the Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court, ridiculed the attempts to get the traditional sport banned.
“After all, cocks are not endangered species like tigers and lions. They are supposed to be killed for meat. In fact, when two cocks come face to face, they fight with each other naturally. Where is the cruelty involved in it?” he asked.
Raju, however, admitted that the traditional sport involved some amount of betting.
“Yes, it if there is a big money involved in it, the law can take its own course. We shall also follow the Supreme Court direction that the roosters are not fitted with sharp blades and knives,” he told the Hindustan Times.
Raju refused to mention the amount of money involved in betting but a Telugu Desam Party leader from Bhimavaram, the major centre for cockfights, said nearly Rs 800 crore to Rs 900 crore change hands in the two districts during the festival.
“The amount of money bet in each game ranges from Rs 1 crore to Rs 15 crore depending on the number of people involved,” he said on condition of anonymity.
According to Raju, the cockfights were confined to five-ten major centres till a few years ago.
“But now, more than 100 games are conducted every day for three days. Not just from coastal Andhra, people from Telangana and Rayalaseema are also coming to our area to participate in cockfights,” he said.
And there are allied activities associated with the cockfights.
“Hotels make big money by charging from Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,000 a day, while liquor shops, eateries selling biryani, fast food kiosks and paan shops do brisk business. And there are cultural programmes for the visitors. If the cockfights are banned completely, it is a big loss to the economy,” Raju argued.
The police have already started booking cases against the organisers in parts of West Godavari district on suspicion of gambling in the name of cockfights. More than 300 cases have been filed in the district so far.
“We shall not allow any illegal activity in the name of cockfights. Stringent action will be initiated if they violate the law,” former director general of police N Sambasiva Rao said.