CHENNAI––Striking at judicial corruption and moving to close the biggest legal loophole that has allowed cockfighting to persist in India, 54 years after it was nominally banned, the Madras High Court on August 21, 2014 ruled that lower courts may not direct police to permit temple cockfights, in contravention of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
Article 51-A[g] of the constitution of India recognizes that “It shall be the fundamental duty of every citizen of India…to have compassion for all living creatures.”
Accordingly, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, passed to implement Article 51-A[g], has been recognized as taking precedence over of most other Indian legislation.
Exemptions from the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, however, have been recognized for religious rituals, since the constitution of India also guarantees freedom of religious worship. The exemptions were originally granted relatively narrowly to practitioners of traditional animal sacrifice and to Muslims who practice public hallal slaughter during the Feast of Atonement that follows Ramadan each year.
But following crackdowns on cockfighting, cockfighting promoters and their politically well-placed allies have organized cockfights at or near temples, and have claimed exemption from prosecution on the pretext that cockfighting is a constitutionally protected religious ritual. This trend, gathering momentum for decades, accelerated after health officials in Odissa state cracked down on cockfighting in early 2008, after learning that the transporation of gamecocks from temple to temple appeared to be one of the major vectors for the spread of the deadly H5N1 avian flu.
Temple cockfights have been repeatedly been protected by restraining orders against law enforcement issued by local judges who have allegedly owed their appointments to the favor of pro-cockfighting politicians, and/or have been suspected of taking bribes.
The August 21, 2014 Madras High Court ruling has legal force only within Tamil Nadu state, but may be influential in other states where cockfighters similarly operate under the cover of practicing religious ritual. Among these states are Assam, West Begnal, Odissa, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala.
Reported Mohamed Imranulluh of The Hindu, “A Division Bench of Justice M. Jaichandren and Justice R. Mahadevan passed the order, dismissing a writ petition from a villager for a directive to the police to permit a cockfight in view of a temple festival at Batlangundu in Dindigul district. The judges agreed with counsel for the Animal Welfare Board of India, S. Suresh, that cockfighting is on the list of acts prohibited under Section 11(1)(n) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, and therefore the court should not entertain petitions for permission to organize such events.”
Wrote the judges, “We are of the view that the relief as prayed for by the petitioner cannot be granted as it is clear that cockfights have been prohibited under Section 11(1)(n) of the PCA Act, 1960.”
Explained Imranulla, “The Section states it is a punishable offence to organize, keep or use any place either for animal fighting or for the purpose of baiting an animal. It also imposes a specific ban on offering a place for such purposes and collecting an entry fee for watching the fight. The judges pointed out that while dealing with a similar case in May this year, another Division Bench headed by Justice N. Kirubakaran had observed, ‘The pleasure derived from the suffering of a bird is nothing but human perversion. No human can have this kind of sadistic pleasure.’”
Refusing to authorize a cockfight at a temple in Virattipathu in Madurai district, Tamil Nadu, Justice Kirubakaran on June 4, 2014 wrote that the Madras High Court is “custodian of not only the rights of citizens, but rights of voiceless non-humans as well,” and called upon the government of Tamil Nadu to enforce the national prohibition of cockfighting.
“”Torture, injury, hurt, discomfort, trauma, agony, pain, distress, disturbance, sorrow, suffering, harm, shock, bleeding, brutal attack, etc., are neither synonymous, nor can go together with pleasure, joy, happiness, excitement, fun, celebration, entertainment, enjoyment, recreation, and championship,” Kirubakaran said.
Commented Chinny Krishna, chief executive of the Blue Cross of India since 1964, and a longtime member of the Animal Welfare Board of India, “Many learned judges of courts have directed police to permit organizers of such atrocities to perpetuate these barbarities. Huge amounts of money, all in unreported cash transactions, are involved, and this fact is without any doubt the main reason that these fights continued.
“For the last many years, the Blue Cross of India and the Animal Welfare Board of India have been firefighting by filing cases,” Krishna e-mailed to ANIMALS 24-7, “in most instances after hearing about the conduct of such events from news reports and photographs which showed hundreds of people watching and betting, with badly mutilated and dead roosters lying all around. Continued, dogged follow-up by the Animal Welfare Board of India by repeatedly filing cases, mostly in the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, seems to have finally yielded results. Finally, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has reaffirmed that these acts are indeed illegal.”