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Rooster fights in A.P. | Super-spreaders in the making

Cockfight in progress at an arena at Ampapuram in Krishna district.

Cockfight in progress at an arena at Ampapuram in Krishna district.

The rapid spread of Omicron in the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic does not appear to have deterred communities in coastal Andhra Pradesh from going ahead with the renowned three-day rooster fights held on the eve of the Sankranthi festival that began on January 14. Despite court orders and directives of the need for ‘strict vigilance’, the holding of this bloodsport now might turn out to be a COVID-19 super spreader event — lakhs of people are expected as participants and spectators.

High stakes, a huge draw

In the hoary tradition of rooster fights, sharp knives are fitted to the legs of two roosters. The birds are then egged on to fight till one surrenders or dies. High stakes and big bets are common, estimated to run into crores of rupees. The bets often go beyond money and can involve agricultural land, houses, cars, and other properties. While the main attraction is the bird fights, it is the associated gambling and liquor trade that draw in large crowds.

 

While the sport is common in almost all the districts, it is a high-profile game in East and West Godavari, Krishna, and Guntur as senior politicians, cine actors, heads of big businesses and even NRIs take part. The annual event pulls in people from even Telangana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. In most constituencies, local leaders host the arenas.

In a sense, rooster fighting is an open secret in the State. Huge cutouts and banners are made ready to welcome celebrity participants. Arrangements related to arenas, tents, seating and parking begin several weeks ahead. Restaurants and hotels can expect brisk business and pricing is on the high side due to the high demand for accommodation and food. The bird fights continue late into the night, under floodlights.

In this instance of the raging pandemic, there is concern from a public health perspective as most of the participants are breadwinners and youth. Officially, the State reported over 3,000 COVID-19 positive cases on Wednesday, but the actual figure could be several times higher given the potential for underreporting.

 

On the ground, a festive mood is visible around the arrangements for arenas in all districts. Thousands of people working in other States have returned home and toll plazas on highways are seeing serpentine lines of vehicles. The Andhra Pradesh State Department has made arrangements for thousands of ‘festival special’ buses to clear the rush. But, no special arrangement or social distancing is facilitated in the special buses and trains either.

 

Festivals, customs and traditions form an integral part of society but in the name of a festive spirit and frenzy, the larger cause of public health has clearly been sacrificed. The second wave of COVID-19 claimed the lives of many due to negligence and a lack of COVID-19 appropriate behaviour. It appears that public memory may be too short even this time and caution may be cast to the wind in public places, the use of transport facilities and in the way gatherings are arranged. The cost of flouting COVID-19 protocols could be very high. The police have already booked hundreds of cases, seized money, knives, roosters and even taken people into custody but have been unable to restrict the arrangements due to support from political leaders and businessmen.

Also read | 676 cockfight organisers held in East Godavari

The broader COVID-19-related restrictions might help reduce the risk of overcrowding associated with the fights becoming ‘super-spreaders’. The State Government has issued orders to impose a night curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., valid till January 31. While larger gatherings, including congregations, marriages and religious events have been restricted to 200 participants each and night activity banned, some orders were revised and the restrictions put off till January 18, a day after Sankranthi.

appaji.r@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | May 21, 2022 9:25:02 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/rooster-fights-in-ap-super-spreaders-in-the-making/article38279480.ece