Massive Sankranti gambling on cocks underway in Andhra Pradesh

Like every year, the Andhra police have announced measures to step up vigil as punters get ready to participate in rooster fight, a banned blood sport involving cocks during the three-day Sankranthi festival. The sport is more particularly played in the districts of West Godavari, East Godavari, Krishna, and Guntur and is associated with the culture and tradition in this region much like how Jallikattu is treated in Tamil Nadu.

Law enforcement agencies have cited animal cruelty prevention laws and the AP Gambling Act, 1974 to impose curbs on rooster fights held on a large scale every year. In the three-day festival, hundreds of crores of rupees change hands in betting on the cocks.

Although officially banned, the bird fights enjoy the patronage of politicians across the party lines as leaders, movie celebrities openly participate in the games. “Participation of public representatives in such events does not augur well for the rule of law as breaking of the law, by the law makers themselves, would only breed contempt for the rule of law, and embolden others to violate the law with impunity,” a division bench of the Andhra High Court said in 2016 while laying down certain guidelines to prevent cock fights during the Sankranthi festival season.

On Friday – the first day of the three-day festival, the regional news channel NTV reported live from the play area where the ruling YSRCP and opposition leaders were seen together. A YSRCP leader said to the reporter that the festival is celebrated together without political demarcations. The roosters are purchased at least a year ago, fed with a scientific diet, and trained by trainers.

Among the guidelines by the High Court is the direction to seize cocks/roosters which are intended to be set up for cock-fights and instruments used or intended to be used for the cock fights, and any money which may have been collected towards betting at such events. The Court also held that the games do not have a religious sanction. “No religious text, which requires cocks to fight each other unto death as a part of a ritual or as a method of slaughter prescribed by religion, has been brought to our notice,” the Court order read. In 2018, the High Court reiterated its 2016 order. An appeal by the then BJP leader and now YSRCP MP Raghu Ram Krishnam Raju to the Supreme Court was dismissed.

Earlier this week, in West Godavari’s Eluru, rural police used tractors to destroy the betting grounds. The grounds are circular in shape with enclosures around. The roosters are released into the enclosures with sharp blades to their feet. The cocks are forced to cut each other until one of them bleeds to death. The surviving bird’s side is declared the winner and takes home the betting amount.

As per reports in local media, more than 1,000 arenas are made available for the cockfights in East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna, and parts of Visakhapatnam and Vizianagaram. The bet on each game may range anywhere between a few lakhs to tens of crores depending on the people involved.

Meanwhile, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals known as PETA has complained to the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI). The Board directed the Director-General of Police (DGP) to put more vigilance and action against offenders and to stop illegal cockfight events. The AWBI has also directed the police department to take action against the erring officials for not implementing the Supreme Court and High Court orders. While rooster fight betting forms a major part, traditional card games and gundata (a form of dice game) are also played with crores changing hands as part of the bets in the three days.

On January 6, the High Court admitted a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking to impose curbs on the cockfights and asked the state government to submit details on the measures taken to prevent the bloody game. The petitioner pointed out that the high court had banned cockfights and it was upheld by Supreme Court. “Yet, the cockfights have been going on every year, as the police have failed to implement the court orders,” the petitioner was quoted by the Hindustan Times.