High-stake fights may be low-key affair

Politicians to avoid posing for photographs with fowls, punters

The general elections scheduled for this year have cast a shadow on the famous ‘Sankranti’ festival and the cockfights associated with it in the Godavari region. The blood sport will be a low-key affair with the political leaders evincing no interest to come out in a brazen way to pose for photographs with the fowls and the punters. They are, however, extending support to the organisers on the sly.

Sankranti and the cockfights have been synonymous here for several decades and people from other places come every year only to take part in them. Stakes are going upward on a par with the increased patronage, hence the entire gamble turned glamorous prompting the media to focus on the once traditional practice.

Though there are dedicated organisers whose job is to select the right birds and train them for the fights throughout the year, the heat begins only a month before the festival. On the lines of cricket, practice fights take place in remote villages. They help the organisers choose the ‘right’ birds for the high-stake fights. Specially trained birds from places like Vizianagaram and Srikakulam too join the bandwagon.

After the birds, the knives to be tied to the legs of the roosters play an important role. Specially trained blacksmiths will make them, two to three inches, in many designs. The size of the knife has be proportionate to the size and weight of the bird.

Organisers have to arrange the venue for fights and invite the punters, besides ensuring that the fights continue without any ‘disturbance.’ While some politicians used to organise the fights themselves, many others extended ‘support’ to the organisers. In the recent past, the Godavari districts witnessed state-of-the-art venues where LED screens had been installed and top class hospitality arrangements made. Until last year, many politicians made it public that they were organising the fights for Sankranti, which they said was part of culture. Their followers used to arrange huge flexis of the leaders holding a bird with one hand and waving to the crowds with another.

Like every year, the police issued an alert against conducting the fights this year too and registered bind over cases on 140 members who had the record of actively taking part in the fights. "We are going to register cases under the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the Gambling Act," says Vishal Gunni, SP.

Interestingly, of the over 12 political leaders including two legislators who organise the fights every year with whom The Hindu interacted, no one is ready to come on record. "There is no point in taking risk in the election year," one of the leaders says and adds that people are not ready to break the custom of conducting the fights during the festivities.

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