The Lede
Cocking A Snook
Andhra Pradesh

Cocking A Snook

GS Radhakrishna

Police as legislators clash in Andhra Pradesh as cock fights continue to be held despite a Supreme Court ban

Sankranti time in the fertile West Godavari area of Andhra Pradesh is always an occasion for lavish feasts and parties. And to top this off are the legendary cock fights, made illegal by the Supreme Court.

But Supreme Court or not, the rich and powerful of the state are unfazed. Cock fights are taking place unheeding of the law and big money is at stake here.

Over Rs 1000 crore are up for grabs by gamers with 7000-9000 gaming locations in over 60 district towns in the five districts of East and West Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Krishna, Guntur and some parts of Prakasam. “This is a rough estimate, but the figure might even be double,” admitted a senior police officer of Rajahmundry.

At the forefront, defying the ban on cock fights was BJP leader of West Godavari district Kanumuri Raghu Ramakrishnam Raju. Raju was the petitioner who moved the Supreme Court for removal of the ban on cock fights. He conducted the game at his native village on Sunday. “This is a traditional game of Sankranti and no court can come in the way. If animal lovers are so prudent, why don’t they campaign against the culling of countless chicken buffaloes, cows and sheep daily across the country and world every day?” he demanded.

Cock fight organisers defy the Supreme Court ban and bet on the sport

Not to be outdone, ruling party MLAs and MPs too presided over cock fights in their constituencies, caring two hoots about the apex court’s ban. Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MLAs Veranjaneyulu and Boda Prasad kicked off the cock fights in their constituencies after a tiff with police officers.

Palakollu, Kakinada, Bhimavaram, Vempa, Eluru, Tadepalligudem, Gudivada, Mummadivaram, Undi, Bhimadolo were the major locations of cock fight dens in West and East Godavari districts.

In Eluru, Undi MLA VV Sivaramaraju and TTD (Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams) former board member Gokaraju Rangaraju, brother of MP Gokaraju Gangaraju, took part in the events. “We participate in the events as our followers are insistent that it is a traditional sport and not a blood-curdling game of death as campaigned by animal lovers. It will take time to completely wean them away,” said TDP Home Minister M Chinna Rajappa.

Chinna Rajappa says that Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has assured that by next year he would discuss with Centre and courts and issue an ordinance along the lines of the one issued by the Tamil Nadu government that allowed the bull taming sport Jallikattu, which was earlier banned by the Supreme Court. After the statement of Chinna Rajappa and with no response from the CMO, the local police have also slackened vigil.

“How can we stop it after the minister or MLA or MP inaugurates it?” asked a senior police officer of East Godavari requesting anonymity. The court has said that officials will be hauled up for not implementing the court directive.

A mango garden at Pedapaka, 10 kilometres away from Eluru the West Godavari district headquarters beckoned patrons of cock fights from far and wide. It was considered a safe haven as it was directly under the patronage of the local TDP MLA Chintamaneni Prabhakar, who is also the government whip and notorious for thrashing a local lady MRO who exposed his sand mafia racket.

TDP MP Totha Narasimham participated in the cockfights at Kirlampudi. TDP MLAs Datla Subba Raju, Thota Trimurtulu, film actress Hema were all spotted at the cock fight rings of East Godavari district.

On Monday morning the Andhra Pradesh police said that 1458 were under house arrest, 355 cases, 1206 cocks, 604 knives and 148 cases were booked. Verbal duels and fisticuffs gamers, local politicians and the police shamed all five districts. Media photographers were banned from taking pictures of either arrests or cock fights. Political leaders and game organisers had formed special teams to ensure there was no leakage of visuals and photos.

“We followed court directions to ensure that cock fights do not happen this year. Or else we have to face contempt of court,” said the new DGP of Andhra M Malakondaiah.

However eyewitnesses and animal rights activists who went around the  East and West Godavari district said that after 11.30 am on Sunday, cock fights and gambling called ‘Gundata’ commenced in full steam following unofficial word-of-mouth reports that cock fights had been allowed by the state government.

Game organisers reopened the cock fight rings and the gambling dens within minutes and to prevent police action, they got the events inaugurated by ruling party MLAs, MPs, and MLCs. Later word spread like wildfire after the Home minister Chinna Rajappa personally inaugurated one such cock fight ring and spoke to the media as detailed earlier about an ordinance.

Following the High Court’s dismissal of the petition seeking to amend the 2016 Supreme Court verdict against cock fights under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, politicians again moved the Supreme Court in 2017 to lift the ban, but in vain. However Andhra police imposed Section 144 in all areas where cock fights are usually held and stepped up patrolling at the villages lining the seafront and riverbank.

Superintendent of Police of West Godavari District Ravi Prakash told The Lede that the Supreme Court has directed them not to arrest farmers or take custody of cocks without any knives tied to them. “Farmers tie knives only after police have left the scene and continue the game,” he said.

Sankranti time is also seen as a ‘payback’ occasion by industrialists and traders to appease the government officials of excise, revenue, municipal administration, power board, the police and elected representatives. In each coastal town, traders form a syndicate to pool funds and entertain them. They hire seafront villages where food, girls, gambling, liquor, record dances and of course cock fights and Kai Raja Kai gambling games are thrown in. “Those in power expect us to entertain them during Sankranti and we do it in an organised manner,” Sarvaraya Chowdhary, a steel merchant of Peddapauram town in West Godavari district told The Lede.

Such pre-Sankranti events are conducted right under the nose of the officials and police. “They also participate as part of kickbacks,” Gopinath Naidu, a municipal contractor of Eluru told The Lede. They also invite their dealers in Vijayawada, Hyderabad, and Mumbai to participate.

A senior journalist based in Visakhapatnam says that cock fights would flourish in Andhra as long as it had the patronage of MLAs and MPs. “In fact fighting cocks are reared like children in hundreds of farms for the event. Just like dogs, they spend thousands of rupees in training them, feeding them and also giving them energy injections,” said Goparaju Naidu of Amalapuram in East Godavari district.

Another political columnist says that legislators also assure the continuance of cock fights as a poll promise and hence they oppose its ban at party forums. Though the issue has been raked up in legislatures, there has been no unanimity for a ban so far. Hence animal activists seek the intervention of courts as there was no political will to prevent the birds from getting injured and killed.

Ironically opposition legislators of the YSR Congress and leaders of CPI, Congress, and CPM are silently watching the tussle between police and ruling party legislators. “We are watching the drama between TDP legislators and police. The ban is only eyewash. We have to see whether and how many IPS, IAS and APAS officials the courts will remove after the festival,” said Ambati Rambabu, YSRC spokesperson.