Y Satyanarayana

Cockfights and Sankranti--the association runs deep in parts of coastal Andhra. What bull fights are to Spain or closer home, the sport of Jallikattu is to Tamil Nadu, cockfights are to parts of rural Andhra Pradesh.

East and West Godavari districts in the state celebrate Sankranti in a big way by staging cockfights during the three days of Bhogi, Makara Sankranti and Kanuma on January 13,14 and 15. It is not the cockfights in themselves which raise eyebrows or catch one's attention, but the betting associated with it. Trained, well-fed roosters, their legs fitted with razor-blades are set upon each other in a fight-to-the-finish.

The bloody 'sport' gets the adrenaline levels of the spectators rushing and huge bets are believed to be placed by backers of these birds--politicians, wealthy farmers and businessmen, among others. Courts have always stepped in and issued strict orders against this 'sport' during the harvest festival, yet year after year, organizers of cockfights prep themselves up for the mid-January spectacle, which appears to continue unhindered.

Srinivasa Raju, a businessman, said that cockfights were a part of local culture and it would be difficult for others to understand this phenomenon. "While it is wrong to fit roosters with blades and knives, cockfights have always been staged around Sankranti," he said. However, he agreed that betting should be discouraged.

Cops warn local organisers against the sport and there are arrests and seizures of huge amounts of money, but popular interest in the 'sport' does not show any signs of ebbing. Will this Sankranti see hundreds of crores change hands again?