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Cockfighting and Gambling Dominate India's 'Sun God' Festival

Sankranti is supposed to be the festival of the Sun God--regarded as the symbol of divinity and wisdom.  However, in Krishna and many other areas of India, the shining moments of this annual January 14 festival of the harvest is cockfights and gambling, according to the Deccan Chronicle.

In discussing the January 14, 2012 “celebration,” the Times of India reports that cockfight betting in India is expected to reach $40 million this year, “Come Sankranti…is all set to raise a toast to roosters. And though there is nothing attractive about the bloodsport in which cocks get wounded and killed, that is unlikely to prevent betting in cock fighting from crossing the Rs 200 crore [$40 million] mark this year. Last year, that figure stood at Rs 100 crore.”

The usual fiery Indian opposition parties forget their differences during this event, with leaders of all political parties coming together and joining hands “for the successful conduct of the cockfights.”

The organizers usually select two or three mango orchards for the cockfights, according to the report, as thousands of people from neighboring villages and districts come to witness the cockfights and, mainly, for the betting. The cockfights go on from January 13 to 15, with over a thousand birds killed in bloody bouts.

It doesn’t appear that cockfighting and gambling were included in the ancient Sankranti celebration. Sankranti is the Sanskrit word in Indian Astrology which refers to the transmigration of the Sun from one Rāshi (sign of the zodiac) to another. The Makara Sankaranti festival commemorates the transition of the Sun into Makara Rashi (Capricorn) on its celestial path, which occurs about 21 days after the Winter Solstice.  It is believed that any auspicious and sacred ritual can be sanctified in any Hindu family from this day onward.

Although there are police warnings, an organizer stated "Believe it or not, people of Godavari district are ready to bet their immovable property," A majority of the punters say cock fighting is a custom that should not be viewed as gambling. “This is a traditional sport. We are only following the sport, not indulging in betting," said S/ Raju, a former people's representative from Palakollu in Bhimavaram mandal.

In a January 10, 2008, article in The Hindu, the State police agency reported it had “… initiated stringent action against the sport,” and pointed out that, “apart from the aspect of cruelty to the birds involved in the cockfight, in which the fowl are often grievously injured or killed, another issue that necessitates police intervention is the gambling in the name of cockfights and the threat posed by gamblers to law and order.”

Police officials say that the cockfights often involves betting rackets, and the losers frequently engage in violence forcing the police to take action based on the Kerala Games Act.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) district committee, demanded that police stop interfering in cockfighting, known as ‘kozhi kettu,’ as it is a part of the temple rituals.  The police say they would not interfere if the cockfight is a low-key affair held at a temple.

Indian cockfighters have traditionally bred and fought Aseels (Asils), a multi-colored gamefowl noted for its pugnacity. The chicks often fight when they are just a few weeks old and mature roosters will fight to the death. Hens can also be very aggressive toward each other.  As often is true of those animals favored for engagement in blood sports, Asils are generally very tame and trusting toward the humans who attach blades three- to four- inches long  to their feet and throw them into a pit where they must kill or die.

Photo gallery taken on January 10, 2007 at the Poolavasa, Kerela, festival, at which approximately 1,500 roosters were fought to their deaths.


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