| Cocks fight in a village on the Canary Islands, the last place in Europe where the sport is legal. (AFP)
Hyderabad, Jan. 23: In Andhra Pradesh, no one can get away with cocking a snook at the law, however high they may be up the pecking order.
A band of 220 rowdy cocks, disturbing the peace and conning the public during Makar Sankranti, was hauled up at a magistrate’s court yesterday and sent to the cooler.
The birds had been “arrested” over the past one week as the police cracked down on cockfighting, an illegal sport that rakes in crores during the mid-January festival, across the coastal districts.
As they rounded up about 1,800 gamblers, the police decided the birds were of a feather with their owners and deserved no better. The beaked brawlers have been charged under the Andhra Pradesh Gaming Act as well as section 420 of the Indian Penal Code for fraud.
The Kakinada court let the gamblers off with a fine of Rs 1,000 each but the birds must stay behind bars till they are auctioned.
Having already hosted them for several days, the police could be excused for feeling that a bit of misplaced zeal was now coming home to roost.
“These birds are fed high-protein diet by their keepers, costing about Rs 100 per day per bird. We can’t afford this,” grumbled inspector K.S.R. Murthy at Kakinada’s 1-Town police station, the cocks’ current address.
“Four days in police custody, and my birds have grown thin,” carped Potharaju, one of the gamblers.
Sub-inspector Rajasekhar, however, argued that a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. “Had we let the cocks go free like their keepers, who were given bail immediately, there’s no way we could have proved the crime. The owners would have destroyed the evidence by killing or eating them.”
Some high-flying birds had flown, though.
Hordes of businessmen, industrialists, politicians, senior police officers and bureaucrats flock together at the cockfight shows, a senior West Godavari police officer said.
“Over 55,000 gamblers took part in the events held at garden parties across the coastal West and East Godavari, Nellore, Krishna and Guntur districts. Many cock-keepers came over from the Rayalaseema and Telengana districts.”
“The arrangements for the cockfights would put to shame even those at cricket stadiums during ODIs,” said Polisetti Prabhakar Rao, a businessman from Eluru.
“Wine flows like water along with the choicest seafood and vegetarian delicacies brought from the coastal towns,” said M. Kutumba Rao, a supplier to these parties.
The revelries begin nearly a week before Sankranti, the Telugu New Year. The police said single bets ranged up to Rs 1 lakh this season, with the turnover coming to Rs 35 crore.
Cockfights apart, Telugu film starlets are another draw at the parties, despite a police ban on “obscene dances and vulgar displays before intoxicated audiences”.
“Almost 30 to 40 per cent of Hyderabad city was empty this Sankranti. They had all gone to the coasts,” said police commissioner Balwinder Singh, who had the tough task of patrolling streets lined by locked doors, warding off burglars for three days and nights.