Cockfights and a casino highlights of Andhra’s Sankranti festivities

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A court ban, police restrictions, and the latest threat of the Covid19 third wave could not stop the people of Andhra Pradesh from participating in cockfighting in large numbers with estimates pointing to a few thousand crores in betting. In addition to cockfights, gundata, number games, and card games are played as part of the 3-day long Sankranti festival.

In Gudivada of Krishna district, a casino was set up in a convention center belonging to civil supplies minister Kodali Sri Venkateswara Rao alias Nani. The casino was set up with specially decorated with strobe lights with dances by youth to latest numbers and cheer girls around to entertain the guests. Bouncers from Hyderabad were engaged to ensure that none could carry mobile phones inside the casino. Entry was restricted with an entry ticket priced at INR 10,000.

However, a few pro-TDP social media accounts circulated videos from inside the casino alleging the ruling YSRCP is bringing gambling culture to Andhra Pradesh. Nani had won every election from the Gudivada assembly seat since first contesting in 2004.

Despite, TDP slamming YSRCP, several ruling and opposition leaders were seen together in cock fighting arenas with a few saying on live televisions that politics and festivals are different. The grounds are circular in shape with enclosures around. The roosters are released into the enclosures with sharp blades to their feet. The cocks are forced to cut each other until one of them bleeds to death. The surviving bird’s side is declared the winner and takes home the betting amount. The cockfights have witnessed a heavy rush, with crores of rupees changing hands in every round.

According to reports, MLAs, MLCs, and political leaders of ruling YSRC and opposition TDP joined cockfight arenas at various places. Former legislator Chintamaneni Prabhakar, MLA. P. Satish Kumar, former MLA D. Buchi Raju, minister Ch Venugopalakrishna, MLA Ch. Jaggi Reddy, legislator Suryanarayana Reddy, and others were seen at these arenas set up in Krishna, Guntur, East Godavari, West Godavari, and other districts. “Earlier cockfights were organised on a low profile to avoid police raids. But, now, everything is done openly with large banners across the villages,” said a person who is native of Andhra Pradesh settled in Hyderabad. “I come to celebrate the festival every year but organising cockfights on this scale was never seen before in my lifetime.”

People familiar with the arrangement said that the organisers arranged food, accommodation, and liquor for three days in connection with the cockfights, including those from the neighbouring Telangana and other states. Although the Police have announced a crackdown on cockfighting arenas, there were only symbolic raids by the police.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals known as PETA has complained to the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI). The Board directed the Director-General of Police (DGP) to put more vigilance and action against offenders and to stop illegal cockfight events. The AWBI has also directed the police department to take action against the erring officials for not implementing the Supreme Court and High Court orders.

On January 6, the High Court admitted a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking to impose curbs on the cockfights and asked the state government to submit details on the measures taken to prevent the bloody game. The petitioner pointed out that the high court had banned cockfights and it was upheld by Supreme Court. “Yet, the cockfights have been going on every year, as the police have failed to implement the court orders,” the petitioner was quoted by the Hindustan Times.