Tasneem Kutubuddin Kutubuddin
Writer, Reader, Fighter. Eater. Also chronically ill, but I don't let that define me! I fight it out and live it up each day. Because in the end, its just me against me.
In this age, it is surprising to know that people still like to watch animal sports when they easily get entertained by the various arenas that technology and science have opened up for humankind in recent times. Most argue that it is followed to preserve an age-old tradition that might diminish over time. The debate here is, do we have to hurt animals to entertain ourselves? Humans already make use of animals in all possible forms. Can this be a hormone-driven and a sublimation of a primal desire to claim alpha male status? Is it necessary to use them for our amusement as well? Animal sport is not just in India; it is a global phenomenon!
With the recent controversies and events surrounding Jallikattu, the bull taming sport of Tamil Nadu, let us have a look at some other disputed animal sports of India.
Description: A cockfight is a blood sport between two roosters (cocks), or more accurately gamecocks, held in a ring called a cockpit. The birds are specially bred for the matches. They are sometimes attached with either metal spurs (called gaffs) or knives, tied to the leg in the area where the bird’s natural spur has been partially removed. While not all fights are to the death, the cocks may endure significant physical trauma. Cockfights are popular in Andhra Pradesh during the festival of Sankranti.
History: There is evidence that cockfighting was a pastime in the Indus Valley Civilization. The sport was popular in ancient times in India, China, Persia, other Eastern countries and Ancient Greece. In India, the cockfight remained an ancient religious ritual, a sacred ceremony (i.e. a religious and spiritual cockfight) associated with the ‘daivasthanams’ (temples) and held at the temple’s precincts.
Regional Variations: In India, cock-fight is not just a sport but a gambling game. Cockfighting Vetrukkaal seval porr in Tamil which means “naked heel cockfight”, Kodi Pandem in Telugu, Kori katta in Tulu. In South India Karempudi Village in Andhra Pradesh, Udupi in Karnataka and Kasaragod in Kerala also practise this sport. There are many rare breeds preserved by these cockfighters. In Jharkhand, the cockfighting game is known as ‘pada’, and the Spurs are called ‘kant’ lots of people enjoy the game, the cockpit is called ‘chhad’, the person in the cockpit or who ties the Spurs is called ‘kantkar’.
Legal Status: India’s judiciary has ordered to ban the sport, saying it violated Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. The Animal Welfare Board of India produced the reports showing the roosters in a pathetic condition. In January 2017, the High Court had upheld the ban on ‘cock-fighting’ in Andhra Pradesh. It is still conducted illegally in the state.
Description: Kambala Kannada is an annual Buffalo Race (he-buffalo) held traditionally under the auspices of local landlords and households or Patel of the village, in coastal Karnataka, India. The ‘track’ used for Kambala is a paddy field filled with slush and mud. The contest takes place between two pairs of buffaloes, each pair raced in wet rice fields, controlled by a whip-lashing farmer. In olden days, the winning pair of buffaloes was rewarded with coconuts and a bunch of plantains and nowadays, the winners are given gold coins, silver coins. Cash awards are also in vogue.
History: Kadri Kambala used to be held at Kadri, Mangalore, and it is called Devara Kambala (God’s kambala) as it is associated with Sri Manjunatha Temple. This event was attended by Alupa kings of Mangalore, 300 years ago. Kambala still continues to draw the rural crowd. In traditional form, the racing is non-competitive. A ritualistic approach is also there, as some agriculturists race their he-buffaloes for thanksgiving (to God) for protecting their animals from diseases.
Regional Variations: The Kambala season starts in November and lasts until March and is held annually in Coastal Karnataka, even in smaller remote villages like Vandaru, Gulvadi, etc. It also takes place in the town of Anandapally, southern Kerala during the post-harvest season
Legal Status: Kambala has been criticised by animal lovers as they perpetuate cruelty due to the use of whips on the racing buffaloes. The Supreme Court judgement of 7 May 2014, stated that “Bulls cannot be used as performing animals, either for Jallikattu events or Bullock-cart Races in the State of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra or elsewhere in the country.” The state high court on Nov 18, 2016, Friday passed an interim stay order stopping all Kambala events in the state.
Description: In parts of rural Maharashtra, bullock cart races have, for long, been a source of recreation and entertainment. Bullock races last around 25 seconds. Maximum distance is 500 metres. For many people, it is a status symbol, while many farmers take it up as a hobby, no betting involved in these races held in village fairs.
History: These events were also an essential feature of the Ganapati festival and the annual village festival called ‘Jatra’. Organising the race is a status symbol and organisers argue that the sport was being held for centuries and was an integral part of the culture of the state and is an age old parampara (tradition).” They keep these animals specifically for races, as a hobby, and not a commercial activity. If the races are banned, these species of bullocks (Khilar) will be in danger, is the argument. They will be taken to the slaughterhouse, as ploughing is done by tractors these days.
Regional Variations: Besides Maharashtra and Punjab, some of the states in which bull/bullock/ox or even horse cart racing usually happens are: Andhra Pradesh; in Chhattisgarh during Pola; many places of Gujarat; Karnataka; various districts of Kerala during the Maramadi Mahotsavam festival or during Kalavayal, the annual cattle fair; Tamil Nadu; Uttar Pradesh and in villages of West Bengal on Dasami day.
Legal Status: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India has argued that the bullocks are not built to achieve high speeds on dirt tracks, and at times, whips are used. They suffer multiple joint problems and other physical ailments. The Supreme Court judgement of 7 May 2014, banned the bullock-cart races in the country. Due to political patronage and lax implementation of the law, bullock-cart races continue to be illegally held in different parts of Maharashtra.
Description: Horse and camel race during the Pushkar fair period attract the most crowd, and the winner gets a cash prize from the government of Rajasthan. The camels are trained to take part in the race and to emerge as winners. The race takes place amidst a celebration of folk dancing and music. There is also a camel beauty contest. Another competition makes large numbers of people sit on the camel’s back and usually fall. The camel that accommodates the maximum number of people on its back wins the competition.
History: Camel racing in Pushkar reflects the importance of camel in the desert. Camel racing mainly takes place on an annual basis during the Pushkar Camel Fair which runs for a whole week in the month of October or November and is a favourite past time.
Legal Status: The state government patronises camel race but camel slaughter, nose piercing and castration are banned.
Description: Dog fighting is a type of blood sport with two game dogs against one another in a ring or a pit for the entertainment of the spectators. The animals are kept in cages, without food for days on end, angering and maddening them. They are then unleashed on each other and made to fight till one of them dies. Bets of lakhs are placed on the winning dog.
History: The practice of pitting dogs against other animals, such as bulls and bears, continued through medieval times in England to the 18th century, and has now made its way into suburban India. Dogs are smuggled from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Australia into India.
Regional Variations: On Delhi’s outskirts, at select farmhouses in Gurgaon, and in select venues in Noida, people regularly gather to watch “dog fights”. These fights have moved from rural pockets of Punjab and Haryana to urban spaces and are a pastime of the suburban rich. According to authorities, dog fighting is practised by gangs and is accompanied by illegal gambling.
Legal Status: Even though it is illegal under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and was banned by the Supreme Court last year, these fights are organised secretly and illegally. Despite a few arrests, the popularity of the sport hasn’t decreased.
Description: Every Makar Sankranti, which coincides with Assam’s harvest festival Bhogali Bihu, bulbul fights are organised in the Hayagriva-Madhava Temple in Hajo, 30 km from Guwahati. People of surrounding villages catch bulbul chicks and rear them for a few weeks before they are taken to the temple premises on Makar Sankranti; the owners of the winners get various prizes. The birds sustain injuries during the fight and losers are let off after trimming the crest so that they do not enter a contest again. There is no betting on the fights.
History: The bulbul fight is part of the religious traditions of the temple. People engage catching and training them nightingales or Bulbuls. People believe that great Ahom King Swargadeo Pramatta Singha saw two Bulbul birds fighting while descending the stairs of the temple. The king was amused by their struggle and instructed his men to catch Bulbul birds and organise their fights. Later it became a part of the tradition and a unique signature event of the temple during the Magh Bihu.
Regional variations: The north-eastern state of Assam, the birds would be trained and then divided into two teams – “Bharalitola” and “Sonaritola”, indicating two localities in the area, and the fight would be directed by experts called “Masing” in each team.
Legal Status: Moves to ban the tradition began in January 2015 when the Assam government issued an order, based on earlier SC orders. The temple committee challenged it through a writ petition. On December 22, 2015, a single judge bench stopped operation of the government order, but The Animal Welfare Board of India challenged the court order and won in January 2016.
Description: Horse racing is an equestrian performance sport, involving two or more jockeys riding horses over a set distance for competition. It is one of the most ancient of all sports and is purpose is to identify which of the horses is the fastest
History: Horse racing has been practised across the world since ancient times in Greece, Babylon, Syria, and Egypt. Horse racing in India is over 200 years old. The first racecourse in the country was set up in Madras in 1777. Today, the sport is conducted on nine racetracks by six racing authorities. Racing started in Mysore under the patronage of Royal Family in 1891.
Regional Variations: India has five ‘Classic’ races. The Indian 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas are run in December. The Indian Oaks and The Indian Derby are all run in Mumbai, and the St. Leger is run at Pune. Other is The Bangalore Derby and The Super Mile which is rotational.
Legal Status: In 1996, the Supreme Court ruled that wagering on horse races is a game of skill, not just luck, and as such does not constitute an illegal form of “gambling” under the 1888 Police Act nor the 1930 Gaming Act. Since this ruling, race popularity in India has exploded to a level previously unprecedented. Horse racing is a legal and heavily regulated industry.
Many of these animal sports do not qualify to be categorised as a sport as they are not registered under the respective state sports councils and are argued to be a cultural or traditional event.
Animal activists argue that worshipping the sun, soil and water, and celebrating the cattle which gave us a good harvest, is the best way to acknowledge our gratitude. But whipping an animal or intimidating it to fight another human/animal in an arena with thousands of spectators enjoying the sight of a terrified animal, is not culture or pride but animal abuse. The animals used are at times castrated, and castration is mutilation and damaging to the animal’s psyche as it loses it sexual powers and becomes impotent for life.
The Indian Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, requires people who are responsible for animals, to take all reasonable measures to ensure their well-being and to prevent unnecessary pain or suffering. But the double standard of animal activists, judiciary and governments to ignore and legalise one sport, but to allow another to prevail, is what irks most people thereby making this, an ongoing debate.
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