As Sankranthi festival approaches, villages and small towns in East Godavari, West Godavari and Krishna districts in Andhra Pradesh are getting ready to celebrate the harvest festival. While the festival is one in which most agrarian communities celebrate their harvest, in many places people are getting ready for cockfights. Though cockfights are illegal, locals often view it as part of their culture and the larger festivities associated with Sankranti.
Despite several court rulings, including a Supreme Court order in January 2018 banning the game, it continues unabated, and enjoys much political patronage. However, police authorities claim that this year they are taking preventive measures to stop cockfights. As per earlier orders from the court, the government has formed committees comprising of police, revenue officials and concerned citizens to crack a whip on the organisers of such events.
East Godavari Additional Superintendent of Police Sridhar Rao told TNM that the measures include taking people into preventive custody and seizure of roosters. The police are also serving notices to organisers of cockfights.
The SP says, “As of now we have made nearly 100 arrests and several persons were served with notices."
He further added, "Section 144 has been imposed on certain places keeping past incidents in view. We are also considering the use of drone cameras. We are planning to use drone cameras keeping in view the diverse geographic locations where these cockfights take place.”
As per the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 and the Andhra Pradesh Gaming Act, 1974, cockfights are illegal, and there by prohibited.
Though the police and the government claim that they will act against defaulters this year, many observers feel that such preventive measures are always half-hearted and since the state is going to polls, the government may choose to appease the sections that organise the cockfights.
Prudhvi Raj V, an independent journalist based out of Andhra Pradesh questions the feasibility of deploying drones to track cock fights that are conducted in every nook and corner of the state.
In 2018, 17 public representatives including MPs and MLAs were made respondents in the case, as they had organised or attended cockfight events.
Prudhvi observes that the game recieves much political patronage, and leaders from all parties either support, organise or participate. “People, including politicians, enthusiastically participate and support cockfights. In such an atmosphere, it is very difficult to implement measures like deploying drones to monitor cock fights.”
The political math behind it
Any party that wishes to win majority in Andhra Pradesh state elections has to sweep maximum number of seats in the Godavari region. The West Godavari and East Godavari districts together have 34 constituencies of the total 175 seats, and is the epicentre of cockfight events. Most parties believe that the stand they take on cockfights, whether in support or in opposition, will have a direct impact on their winnability during elections.
Prudhvi further asserted, "No ruling party will dare to face the ire of the people, especially in an election year, Godavari is crucial.”
The ruling TDP won 15 out of 15 seats in West Godavari and 14 out of the 19 seats in East Godavari in 2014.
“Every year, the police department makes plans to take strict action and then are forced to go soft owing to strong political pressure coming from high echelons,” Prudhvi points out.
Shreya Paropakari, an advocate and People Consultant with Humane Society International and a respondent in the case in the High Court against cock fighting, however, believes that using drone cameras and other methods would help to enforce the law.
“There is always prior information about cockfights venues, the police can prevent it. The videos recorded of events that take place can be used as evidence in the court of law,” Shreya says.
Shreya alleged that cock fights are a business centred around cruelty and promote the culture of violence in the name of tradition.
“Unfortunately, we are electing the leaders who are interested in breaking the law and misleading people, inciting them also to break the law," she alleged.