Bloodthirsty. Brutal. Banned. Thriving.


5 May 2017

In fields and villages across India, fighting cocks meet in bloody battles, spurred on by their owners and promoters in front of throbbing crowds of men, women and children.

Despite violating India’s animal cruelty and gambling laws, this bloody tradition is thriving. Indeed, it’s not uncommon to see state lawmakers and uniformed law enforcement officials enjoying the local whisky and joining in the gambling flutter amidst the bloodthirsty mêlée.

The birds in the ring can come from anywhere in Indian rural society. Sometimes they originate from small farming families, often raised like family pets while being prepared for battle. Often, they are the output of massive organised breeding farms where professional trainers systematically cultivate huge flocks of feathered prizefighters, honing their temperament, fitness, battle-skills and killer instincts in time for the big fighting season. And just as likely, the birds gouging one another to death have been reared as the lucrative hobby of some well-off local impresario, groomed for the ring with pride and dedication and proudly presented to the crowd in the expectation of both prestige and huge cash wins.

Like Spain’s bullfighting, India’s cockfighting habit divides national opinion. Some argue that the ‘sport’ is barbaric, cruel and unfit for any civilised 21st century nation. Others consider cockfighting to be an important cultural tradition, an Indian festive keystone and one of the relatively few diversions accessible to every member of the country’s famously unequal society.

What no one denies are the parallels with the bullring and other ring sports, including huge financial gains. Consistently victorious cocks earn reputations, recognition and vast followings. Successful trainers gain prestige, public respect and handsome prize purses — often bagging ₹50,000 (US$775) or more per fighting day. Vast amounts of illicit betting cash changes hands: pundits estimate the total betting at somewhere around ₹9bn (US$140m) across just a few days of the fighting season. A single prize rooster can sell for ₹100,000 to ₹400,000 (US$1,500–6,200) —  and can often be seen publicly advertised on India’s major online marketplaces.

If you have the stomach for it, photos are below.

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Caution: You may find some of these images distressing.