Bird Fights

In ancient times in India jungle fowls, partridges, quails and cocks were made to fight as a pastime of the warriors. Strange as it may sound, cock fights have triggered wars between Palanadu and Macharla, and the Bobbili and Vizianagaram war.


Today, bird fights are still prevalent in certain parts of India in the name of tradition and religion. For example, the haat or weekly markets in Chhattisgarh state are incomplete without the blood sport of cockfighting. In Kerala, the blood of the vanquished cock is offered to the gods in the belief that it will protect family members of the household. Organized bird fights also serve as gambling events for people to make easy money, where crores of rupees exchange hands over making the birds fight.

 

A community page on Facebook called ‘Fighting-Rooster’ states that “A cock-fight is a blood sport between two roosters (cocks), held in a ring called a cockpit. Even though it’s illegal in India, people still raise, train and cockfight at festival times. Very famous in Southern India like Tamil Nadu, Andhra, etc.” This page directs the reader to the ‘Indian Rooster’ blog which contains recent videos and pictures.


The Calcutta Aseel Club (Asil is a fighter cock in Urdu) founded in 1953, also runs a website but claims to no longer promote cockfighting since it is now illegal in India!

The Asil is said to be the best breed among the fighting fowls. Indian breeds considered inferior to it are Kalasthi, Danki and Vezaguda from Andhra Pradesh; Hansli and Dumasil from Orissa; and Chittagong from North East India.


Current Status of Bird Fights


In India, protection to all animals is extended under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 (PCA Act); however, due to deeply entrenched human traditions that inherently violate the “five freedoms” of animals, namely freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury or disease; freedom to express normal behaviour; and freedom from fear and distress, many animals continue to suffer in various situations. In addition to this provision in law, the Supreme Court of India has also directed the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) and state governments to extend protection to animals to maintain the five freedoms.


Come the winter harvest season and several states in India hold bird fight events to serve as a source of entertainment and gambling for the revellers. Cockfighting, in coastal Andhra Pradesh is known to cross Rs600 crore every year with more than 20,000 event organizers. In late 2016, the Hyderabad High Court imposed a ban on cockfighting events and all activities associated with it on grounds that the sport violates the PCA Act, 1960, the Andhra Pradesh Gaming Act, 1974, and the Andhra Pradesh Towns Nuisance Act, 1889. As part of the same judgement, as a precautionary step, the HC gave directions to constitute SPCAs (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in all districts of Andhra Pradesh.


In Odisha, the “fun” game of cockfighting continues unabated for about two months between November and January in the tribal areas of Kendrapara district. Law enforcement agencies have reportedly turned a blind eye to this event, which in addition to animal cruelty, violates the state anti-gambling act. Within the tribes in Jharkhand too, cockfighting is staged during the Tusu festivities where the events turn out to be seats for gambling and alcohol.


In mid 2016, the Bombay High Court asked the Maharahstra government to ban cockfights in the state acting on a PIL filed by an animal lover. The PIL made the case that making the birds fight with blades attrached to their feet is completely unnatural and therefore violates the PCA Act, 1960.


Despite the law being on the side of the animals, bird fighting is held clandestinely as well as an act of defiance. In January 2017, people in Sembatti in Tamil Nadu held cockfighting events to protest bans on their “tradition”. However, in early 2017 in Gangnal village of Karnataka, Police arrested several people for gambling over cockfighting. In certain areas, the Police fail to act under pressure from politicians who fear losing their vote base if they try to disturb a “tradition”.


Cruel, With and Without Blades


Raising roosters or game-cocks to fight each other is not only cruel, but illegal and a public nuisance as well – BWC wonders how state level competitions that dole out huge prize money take place. The cocks are kept in dark rooms, away from sunlight for a week prior to the events so that the stress makes them aggressive enough to fight. To raise their stamina they are fed almonds and other nuts daily, but on the day of the fight are kept hungry so that they become still more aggressive.

 

A razor sharp knife having a three to four inch blade is tied to one foot of each bird-contestant. They are trained to fight and kill their opponents. The duel ends when one bleeds to death due to being lethally wounded by the other bird. By then, the other is gravely injured as well. Such fights are widely organised, particularly in the four districts of East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna and Guntur of Andhra Pradesh, and in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts of Karnataka. But, in some parts of Tamil Nadu, vetrukkaal seval porr (naked heel cockfights) are held for which the winner is decided after three or four rounds. Blade or no blade, gore, blood and money are seen. The sport is more focused on gambling than anything else. Animal activists naturally feel it is a medieval blood sport that should be stopped, gamblers defend it in the name of “tradition” and livelihoods.


In response to public interest petitions filed by Animal Rescue Organisation and Bird Lovers Association, in December 2016 the Hyderabad High Court (HHC) banned cock fights and all activities associated with it, such as betting that ruins families overnight. The HHC directed the district collectors to constitute inspection teams and take action under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 and the AP Gaming Act, 1974. On 9 January 2017 the Supreme Court upheld the HHC’s order prohibiting cockfights.


Despite this, cock fights went hi-tech with wi-fi and CCTV recordings and drone cameras to ensure punters did not cheat, to check what the roosters were fed, and believe it or not several drone cameras also hovered around the venues on the look-out for approaching police. It was estimated that on the first day of the three-day Sankranti festival punters in East and West Godavari districts where cock fights were held illegally, made Rs 80 crore. Swiping machines were borrowed from merchants and the bets were shown as purchase of items. Mobile phone transactions also took place.


The HHC had also cautioned politicians not to endorse the inhumane cock fights by patronising such unlawful events, but it made little difference. It is but obvious that a political will and commitment to stop cock fights in Andhra Pradesh is essential.


Cockfighting or kozhi kettu is an illegally held blood sport at temples in Kasaragod district of Kerala. BWC therefore wrote to the District Collector in 2012 pointing out the illegality and cruelty involved: Women are not allowed to watch the gory spectacle that takes place in a ring called “cockpit”. Here too, a sharp blade or knife is attached to one of the legs of the cock with which it kicks the other cock. The blood is finally offered to the Theyyam Gods, believed to protect the family; however now, gambling has become a part of the ritual.

The Kerala Tourism website flagrantly declares, “The significance and splendour of cockfight is best reflected in almost all the folk songs of Malabar. It is one of the major rural attractions of Kasaragod district and has a legendary origin. Earlier these cockfights were an inseparable and unavoidable part of temple festivals, especially in the northern parts of Kasaragod district. Though it is legally forbidden, cock-fights are conducted secretly in many parts of the district. In olden days a religious tint is attributed to this sport and that is why even now cockfight is conducted in the precincts of temples. Special breeds of cocks that have great vigour and stamina are groomed for the fight. The fighter bird rises high and tries to kick the enemy bird. Usually one of the birds gets fatally wounded and dies. Sometimes the defeated bird runs off from the arena. The owner of the successful cock is entitled to get the defeated or killed cock. If both cocks are killed in the fight the owners exchange the dead birds. Large scale betting is also prevalent in many parts.” A close follow-up with the Kasaragod District Collector resulted in him forwarding our letter to the Police Chief so we expected positive action. However, all that happened was that on receiving tip offs some people were fined for gambling and cocks were seized and auctioned.


Gambling on Death and Some Rescues


Under the Bombay Prevention of Gambling Act and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Act, hundreds of people present (including businessmen) at cockfights held in farmhouses on the outskirts of cities have been arrested. Losing birds are immediately killed, cooked and served to guests at such parties. For example, in 2009 at a farmhouse week-end cockfighting party in Warje village near Panvel, the Police burst a betting racket by seizing Rs 2.1 lakh, arresting 143 people, and rescuing over 25 live cocks.

On Sankranti (14 January) cockfights are organised in the West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh in places like Bhimavaram where heavy betting up to Rs 50 crore takes place. With such high stakes, over Rs 2 lakh is spent per bird to feed and train it for the bloody illegal fight. They are fed almonds, cashews, dry fruits, cereals, pulses, eggs, kheema (minced mutton) plus injected with muscle-building hormones and antibiotics so that they can withstand injuries during the fights. The Kshatriya community men pride themselves for participating in cockfights and a prized cock weighing 4 to 5 kgs could be sold up to Rs 4 lakh. Unfortunately this illegal activity is carried out under political patronage of the state and claimed to be a traditional sport. To indicate their skills, the birds are categorised as dega (eagle supposed to be ferocious during afternoons), kaaki (crow) and pearl and nemali (peacock which fight better in the evenings).


In 2012 for Makar Sankranti cockfights organised at Alipur village in Aska of Odisha’s Ganjam district were halted when the Police cracked down upon them and nabbed 20 of the 160 persons present. 26 cocks (many with knifes tied to their legs), motor-cycles, cars and cash for betting were seized and a case was registered against them for injuring a constable in retaliation.

Kanker in Chhattisgarh is a small trading outpost where during local fairs cockfights occur at a property called the Kanker Heritage Palace.

In December 2014, a court in Madhya Pradesh fined the owners of two roosters and ordered the birds to be auctioned. They had started fighting in court where they were produced along with 12 villagers who had been arrested under the Madhya Pradesh Gambling Act for illegal betting.


Partridge Fights

Partridge-fighting is said to take place in Old Delhi on Sunday mornings and nights. Often patronised by politicians, partridge-fights are also held in Hamirpur (and other places in Uttar Pradesh) where kala and safed titar (black and white coloured partridges) are found in the wild. The birds are brought to the rural arena in baskets by bird keepers who say they regularly feed them oil and dry fruits so they are well prepared to fight. Heavy betting (Rs 15,000 on a winner) takes place and winners not only get prizes (shields) but since there is a demand for the winning birds, they are sold off immediately for about Rs 20,000 each. In the Old Delhi fights, many of the wounded birds are brought by Jain merchants and admitted to the Bird Hospital within the Jain Temple near Red Fort.


Bulbul Fights


In Assam during the harvest festival of Bhogali or Magh Bihu not only are bulbuls and cocks made to fight but buffalo-fights are also organised for thousands who come to watch. Months earlier, over 300 red-vented bulbuls (songbirds), trapped from the forest in bamboo cages, are trained to fight over a banana. A day before the fight, they are given no food, and on the fight day, they are given a herbal paste, which gets them highly intoxicated. Loud drum beats and cymbals goad the birds (whose legs are tied with string) belonging to two teams, to fight all day. The winner of each duel takes on another winner till the last bird is crowned and given the banana.


The bulbuls are said to be released into the wild, but BWC can not understand why no action was ever taken under the Wildlife Protection Act against the Hayagriva Madhava temple authorities at Hajo, 24 kms from Guwahati.


Beauty Without Cruelty therefore complained to the Environment Ministry officials, following which the state government prohibited bulbul-fights in January 2015. Fights between cocks and buffaloes were also banned in compliance with a Supreme Court order.


A Cock Struk Back


At Midnapore (West Bengal) in 2010, a fighter-cock killed a man – the very man who had trained it to fight other cocks. The cock struck back when he was pushed to fight yet another cock. He had already won four fights by killing his opponents. So when he was forced into the arena yet again, he turned back and attacked the man by jumping upon him, cackling and flapping its wings while the razor blades tied to its feet sliced the man’s jugular vein and he bled to death as no first aid was available.

Page last updated on 16/03/17