Sumedha Sharma in Gurugram
Tusaini is just like any other backward village in Haryana’s Mewat district, lacking infrastructure and modern amenities. Surprisingly, this quaint village has lately emerged as a much sought-after weekend destination for people from the neighbouring states. No, it’s not the natural beauty or the rustic charm that’s drawing people to this nondescript hamlet. Well, the village has emerged as the hub of cockfighting in the region, and that’s what’s attracting people, mostly businessmen, from the Delhi NCR, Rajasthan and UP.
The last Sunday of every month is like a festival in the village. Around 200 cars zoom into the village, bringing in a large number of spectators to watch the dangal and place bets on their chosen rooster. It’s, of course, all illegal — the cockfight, the betting — but everyone involved is apparently happy cocking a snook at law. Anyway, for a dangal, you need an akhada. So, it’s constructed near the hills, on the outskirts of the village. And on the fixed day, the dangal happens, fetching bets as low as Rs 100 to as high as Rs 2 lakh.
The entire village is involved in arranging the mega event. The villagers set up a fighter cocks market, snack and drink stalls, and even provide local photographers to click picture of the winners. The villagers spend an entire month preparing for the dangal. While women folk, in addition to their household chores, are responsible for feeding the roosters, young boys are tasked with training and holding daily practice sessions for them. And on the day of the dangal, many of these youngsters turn into guards — their duties include spotting and reporting any suspicious persons at or around the venue for the dangal, and guiding the prospective gamblers to right spot. The organisers also provide pickup and drop facilities to their patrons.
Hi-tech betting racket
All was going well for the villagers until last week when the police swung into action and nabbed 18 persons, recovering six cocks worth Rs three lakh and three cars. The arrest and the subsequent interrogation brought to the fore a tale of hi-tech betting racket, run by persons from rural background, that could give any bookie or casino a run for its money.
It works like this: Roughly around five families in the village are involved in poultry. They are responsible for rearing the Aseel breed of rooster and procuring the best of the breed from Merut, Ghaziabad or other parts of UP. They regulate the sale and purchase of these fighter roosters through several groups on Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram. They post regular updates in these groups to their hundreds of followers about the new roosters available and how much would they cost. The regulars at betting have a common WhatsApp group where the date and rate of the dangals are posted. The majority of such enthusiasts include small-time businessman from Haryana and UP and rich Marwaris from Rajasthan.
From Saudi to Mewat
But how did the illegal sport of cockfighting made it to this village in the first place? It all started, informs a village elder, when a village youth went to Saudi Arabia a few years back and returned with the idea of hosting cockfights in the village. “He made a lot of money by setting up cockfight stalls in Saudi Arabia, and learnt the tricks of the trade as well. On returning, he arranged for two roosters, had them fight each other, and almost all men placed bets on the fight,” said the old man, who did not want his identity to be disclosed. “At once we realised the potential the sport had to change our lives. We started organising it occasionally in village fairs, but soon it became very popular. Today, our boys are not only successfully running it but are also training others who are interested in holding dangals in their villages. The idea is to hold IPL like tournaments in future.”
But isn’t all this illegal? “It’s not a crime, it’s a sport that has been around since the Mughal times. We don’t know why police acted this way; things had been fine all these years,” the old man lamented.
A village youth, who was recently apprehended by the police for his involvement in cockfighting, sounded equally astonished at the crackdown on the activity that was “helping everyone earn some money”. “The fights gave everybody a source of income, even to those who were not directly involved. Be it a biryani seller or the teens guarding the village boundaries on the day of the dangal, everybody made money from it. The police say it’s gambling, but it’s not and we are being harassed,” he complained.
Given how deeply invested people are in the sport, the recent police action is unlikely to put an end to it overnight. The cockfights have become immensely popular in the region, so much so that the organisers now get requests to arrange the fights during sangeet and bachelor parties.
A cockfight is a blood sport between two roosters, held in a ring called a cockpit. Aseel is the most common breed used for the fight here. The breed is known for its aggressive temperament, fighting abilities and a majestic gait. They start fighting when they are just a few weeks old. The fight between mature fowls often results in the death of one of the competitors. Easy to rear, they are available across Mewat and UP and can be priced as high as Rs 2 lakh. With Bollywood star Salman Khan being the favourite of the patrons, most of the roosters are named after his characters from his movies, such as Devil, Sultan, Dabanng, Tiger or Bhaijaan. Sultan, owned by a Merut businessman, is ruling the roost here. It’s unbeaten in the last four fights, and have fetched total bets of Rs 7 lakh.
... and their training, diet and fights
The villagers involved in cockfight aren’t much educated but they are experts when it comes to training the cocks for fights. All it takes is just one glance for them to find out whether the rooster has it in him to become a fighter cock. “It is the quality of feathers and legs that indicate whether it could be a fighter cock,” says Aftab, a rooster provider from Meerut.
As one would expect, the fighter cocks are given a nutritious diet, comprising bajra, dry fruits and special multivitamins. The birds are given regular workouts, too. “We train the cocks daily. It’s like martial arts — they are trained to kick while standing on the ground, then they are made to jump and kick simultaneously. We arrange practice fights for them, but care is taken to ensure they don’t damage their claws,” explains Aftab. Do they use hormones and steroids to bulk up the roosters? The answer is ‘yes’. “Roosters fighting the top fights are given muscle-building hormones,” says Aftab.
But even if a rooster is agile and strong, it would be no good in the cockpit if it lacks aggression. The trainers have a solution for that as well. “We keep the cock in complete darkness for at least three days before the fight. This is done to spike up its frustration and anger, which it lets out on its opponent the moment it is exposed to light in the cockpit,” say a rooster handler.
The fights are of two types — naked heel and blade heel. In the blade heel fights, three-to-four inches sharp blades are tied to the legs of the roosters to ensure fights don’t last too long. The naked heel fight could go up to two hours. The fights are organised only between pure breed roosters, especially Aseel. The most aggressive variety is called Galva.
What’s the law
The Supreme Court banned cockfighting as a violation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. However, it continues to be popular in different parts of the country, especially in the rural coast of Andhra Pradesh, attracting large bets. The police cracked a whip on the sport and those involved a few days back in Mewat’s Tusaini village. Here’s what the police and those againt the practice have to say...
This is the first time the police has taken a stern action against cockfighting. It is not just gambling but also cruelty to animals. The sport is banned, yet it’s organised in various states. The raid gave us major leads and now we will uproot the practice before it spreads to other districts. — Sangeeta Kalia, SP Mewat
There were over a hundred people but they got the whiff of the raid and managed to flee. Yet, we managed to catch many gamblers and a few organisers. The village is strongly guarding and protecting the practice but we are working to end it. We have a tip-off that it’s being organised in other areas as well... we will act and net all involved —Krishan Kumar, SHO pounhana
We have been urging people to give it up because many women approached the panchayat saying how uncomfortable they feel with their house full of unfamiliar men, many of whom are drunk. Those involved are not ready to accept the sport is illegal, but the police action had driven the point home. Now, we will help the police to uproot this malice from our village — Khazer Khan, Husband of the village sarpanch
The age when a fighting cock hits its prime. It stays at the top of its physical prowess for about three years.
The height a large Aseel rooster can grow up to. It generally weighs anywhere between 5kg to 7kg.
Rs 2 lakh
Money one may need to shell out to buy a high-quality Aseel fighting cock.
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