Cockfighting is an ancient spectator sport. There is evidence that cockfighting was a pastime in the Indus Valley civilization. Where two cocks will fight against each other until one of them will die. It started in Tamil Nadu, India. Nowadays the practise is widespread in coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh, including other states Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Telangana, despite being illegal in India.
I am doing my fellowship with Shiksharth, based in Sukma, Chhattisgarh. Shiksharth is working in the naxalite-impacted tribal area to provide contextual solutions and create a safe space for conflict-affected children. This district is mostly populated by the Gond tribes who are deeply connected to nature – जल जंगल और जमीन (water, forest and land). They are dependent on natural resources for their livelihood. They have been following their tradition and culture for centuries. Cockfighting is (murga-fighting) one of those traditions which is deep-rooted in their culture and it’s also the source of their pastime and enjoyment. This usually starts in January and ends in June, when the monsoon starts.
This game is played on the ground covered with fences and the spectators are all around the fences. And those who will participate in the game, have to get their cock for participation. There are some 50 types of cocks suitable for cockfighting. But in Sukma, there are only five or six types of cocks people prefer for cockfighting. People breed and sell their cock to people who then use them for cockfights. The fighter cock rate starts from INR 2000 and goes from INR 14000 to 15000 in the month of Murga Bazaar (cock market). So before the mela season, the tribals started training their cocks, by changing their diets. The diet for the cocks raised for cockfighting includes rich protein food like almonds, cashews, pistachio, and meat.
In the training of cocks they are taught some actions and behaviour patterns which help them to fight better on the battlefield. For example, the owner will hold his cock and place it on the ground and hold its tail and pull it behind. Against the force, the cocks have to go forward. Similarly, they have to go through with the same action multiple times to teach a single move. When the mela and the season of cockfighting comes closer, they put their cocks in a dark room so that the cock gets angry and furious. I also heard that some people burn the cock’s tail to make him even angrier.
I heard and saw that there is some kind of doping used for getting the cock in better shape. I asked the locals on what kind of doping is being used for the cocks and they told me about some injections. When I asked the shopkeepers they told me it’s a kind of steroid which helps in muscle building.
Cockfighting begins on the day of Makar Sankranti when the villagers are free from farming activities. The major paddy crop has already been harvested in the month of November-December. In melas, there is a separate section for cockfighting which is very crowded. It grabs a lot of attention from villagers and outsiders. The fight starts around 2-3 PM and it goes on till 7-8 PM.
The owners are ready with their roosters and sit outside the ground waiting for their turn. Before they get called, the owner of the rooster fits the blades/knife on the rooster’s right leg, right below its thumb. The spectators stand around the fence, gamble and bet on roosters. There are some rules for the fight. Usually, roosters of the same colour will not fight against each other. The winner of the fight gets the lost rooster as a victory which they either eat or sell.
In Sukma district, cockfighting occurs in a few weekly markets. The game rules and its rituals are the same as mela/festivals. It’s more for timepass and enjoyment and some villagers do betting and gambling on the match.
The moment cocks enter the field, spectators start betting on their favourites; who they think will win. If you stand in the crowd, you will hear roaring sounds of betting and gambling all over the ground. When the fight is over, you see many villagers exchanging large sum of money.
When I came to Sukma in October, I heard from villagers and my co-workers about the cockfights and I was very excited to see them. But gradually I found out that it’s illegal in India and the Hyderabad high court commission has ordered a ban on it in 2016. Cockfighting is part of tribal culture and is allowed in some states but they can’t tug the blade/knife on cocks leg because it’s against animal violations act under sections 428 and 429 of the Indian Penal code (IPC),1860.
It leaves me with a question – is this tradition or violence against animals?