KARACHI, March 3: Mutilated bodies of specially bred roosters lie unattended on the ground. The piece of land, partly covered by a marquee in Mowach Goth, has been the venue of a blood-curdling cockfight. Jubilant lovers of the outlawed sport, some accompanied by visibly shaken children, leave in twos and threes. The show has ended for the day.
“All of this is for fun. Gamblers across the city make millions in cockfights organised in collusion with police. In this case, police were paid Rs300 per rooster for looking the other way while the sporting event was held here,” says Mohammad Baksh, a regular visitor from Mirpurkhas to Mowach Goth’s weekly cockfight.
Affectionately called “cheater” by his friends, Baksh has invested his entire life in the centuries-old blood sport, which is prohibited in the country under The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1890.
“This is my source of livelihood. I own 23 gamecocks. Besides, I also make money by taking care of animals that get injured during the fights,” he says matter-of-factly.
Located in Baldia Town, Mowach Goth has been the venue of cockfights for over five years. Though cockfights are held at a smaller scale in many areas of the city, some popular venues include New Karachi, Korangi and the Hub river.
Cockpits in Clifton, Defence, Manghopir, Nazimabad and Machhar Colony have been closed over the years.
According to Baksh, from 80 to 100 roosters are brought for a single fight to Mowach Goth. The stakes can range from Rs50,000 to Rs100,000 as bird owners and spectators bet large sums of money on the outcome of fights.
“The combatants get injured because their spurs, after partial removal and sharpening, are fitted with sharp pointed objects, almost two-and-a-half-inch-long. At times, what enables a rooster to carry the day is its first attack on the unsuspecting opponent rather than its strength.”
Baksh says a cockfight can last from several minutes to almost an hour.
“However, the fighting roosters are separated from each other and made to rest like pugilists every five minutes. Their injuries are attended to in this period using a mixture of salt, sugar and water. The recess – referred to as ‘pani’ in cockfighting parlance – also sees the combatants being administered injections to boost their strength and stamina.”
Baksh says he has mastered the art of stitching wounds after years of practice. “Once stitched, if the bird is not critically injured, it is again thrown into the cockpit to resume the fight which continues till one of the birds either dies or leaves the other fighter handicapped. Both animals can also die from fatal wounds. Injured birds, if they recover later, are used for breeding.”
Anwar Solangi, another gamecock owner, says roosters are trained like athletes.
“Although every animal owner has his own formula, the rule of thumb is that the feed should be such that it makes them strong but not fat. Some people add a small quantity of pistachios, almonds, milk, boiled eggs, apple preserve and Indian gooseberry (amla) to the regular feed given to specially trained roosters,” he says, adding that gamecocks are massaged and made to jog everyday to build up stamina.
Though gamecocks possess congenital aggression toward males of the same species, these birds are of a special breed called Aseel, say owners of roosters. According to them, the birds are usually identified on the basis of the area of their origin, colour and physical characteristics.
For instance, Mianwali roosters are popular among cockfight admirers although they are shorter than Sindhi gamecocks.
“People buy a Mianwali rooster for as much as Rs25,000. They are considered good because they are fast, strong and make a lot of use of their legs,” says Naeem who is not in the business of cockfighting but enjoys the blood sport.
“A tall bird, with small eyes, a long tail, thin legs, medium-sized neck, a small crown and a spur closed to its big claws is considered beautiful,” he points out.
Some other popular breeds include Java, Mushka, Satmura, Tiki, Chandul, Kabutra, Raiza, Amroha, Saniasi, Khulia and Dakni. They says the reason why cockfights are held more often in winter is that “gamecocks are hot in this season and in summer they start losing their feathers”.
A gamecock, well taken care of by its keeper, is able to fight from one and a half years to up to three years. An untrained cock costs anything between Rs500 and Rs1,000, but once “trained to fight” the cost can range between Rs5,000 to Rs50,000. Empress market and Liaquatabad No10 are considered good spots for buying such birds.
Animal owners say cockpits in different localities are often raided by police, but things somehow “get sorted out”.
“This traditional sport is not a poor man’s game. High-ranking government officials come here to watch the sport. So, as long as these people frequent cockpits, we have no fear,” says an animal owner not wishing to be identified.
The reason why such sporting events are held across the city is that there is apparently no government department to implement The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1890. The district officer of the city government’s livestock department, Dr Nasrullah Panhwar, told Dawn that there was no government department to clamp down on cockfights.
“A non-governmental organisation, Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, used to active some 10 years ago. But with the death of Lady Constantine, their activities have come to an end. There is a law on the subject, but who will implement it because no government department has been tasked to do so?” he wonders.
Jehangir Durrani, a bird expert with WWF, says that fights between cocks, partridges, dogs and bears are common in Sindh.
“Cockfights, however, seem to be the most popular of all blood sports admired in Sindh. Sukkur and Shikarpur are famous for making artificial spurs of tin, iron and wood. It is a pity that some people keep their children hungry – or at least ill-fed – but give costly dried fruit to gamecocks being trained to fight.”
He also stresses the need to make necessary amendments to the century-old law on animal cruelty.
“According to the act, any person inciting any animal to fight or baiting any animal or aiding or abetting any such incitement or baiting can be punished with a fine which may extend to fifty rupees. This is a joke considering that animals are subjected to brutality and a lot of money is generated from this blood sport,” he says, suggesting that the fine should be at least Rs50,000 in this day and age.