A hastily typed Whatsapp message, peppered with typos, canvassing a contest between ‘Rocky’ and ‘Tyson’ near Goa’s Siridao beach, isn’t an invite to a boxing match.
More likely, it is a hush-hush call to witness an illegal bullfight between two well-groomed fighting bulls, a rage in Goa’s coastal underground.
In recent days however, the death of two bulls in two separate bullfights — locally called dhirio — have raised the hackles of Goa’s gaurakshaks and animals’ rights activists, who now want the state government to crack down on such fights which have been banned by the Bombay High Court since 1996.
“Despite the ban, these bull fights are common in Goa’s villages. We have filed numerous complaints, but the police often do not respond quickly enough,” according to Hanumant Parab, president of the Gou-vansh Raksha Abhiyan, an NGO which looks after stray and abandoned cattle in Goa.
A typical dhiri (singular) involves two specially reared fighting bulls or male buffaloe, with fine physiques and sharpened horns, head-butting each other until one scampers away from the ring, indicating defeat.
In combat, the participating bulls sometimes adorn a distinctive coloured sash, quite like boxers who wear colour-coded attire to match their respective corners of the ring.
Since such fights are illegal, invitations to these affairs are passed on at extremely short notice (an hour at maximum) through private groups on social media platforms, filled with eager dhirio aficionados. Apart from invitations, fighting bull owners often use such restricted groups to dare others or challenge other fighting bull owners to combat.
After football, very few other sports evoke a response as bullfighting does. And the near-fanatic following also comes with a promise of betting on participating beasts.
“If the bulls are popular, with victories under their belt, the owner of a winning bull could come away with Rs. 1 to Rs. 5 lakh in one single fight,” a fighting bull owner from Siolim village in North Goa told IANS on condition of anonymity.
The bulls are fed on a special diet of grain, jaggery, coconut, cane, vegetables and a strict exercise regimen, which involves plenty of running. Some bulls are also brought in from South Maharashtra and pitted against locally groomed bulls.
But the aggressive fights also lead to injuries, and in rare cases fatalities amongst the beast, which has riled animals’ rights activists.
In October last year, two persons were arrested for organising a bullfight, after one of the participating bulls succumbed to injuries.
On January 10, yet another bull died after a bullfight in Mandrem village in North Goa, leading to the arrest of two persons, who had organised the fight.
“Whenever we have got information, we register the cases against fighting bull owners. The animals in such cases are also medically examined,” Police inspector in-charge of the Pernem police station Jivba Dalvi said.
However, the sections of law under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, which covers such crimes are bailable, which Dalvi said, does not appear to be an adequate deterrent to stop illegal bullfights altogether.
Before the 1996 Court-imposed ban, bullfights were a common affair after the harvesting of paddy crop.
Several politicians across party lines over the years have ‘promised’ to legalise bullfighting on the lines of Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu.
In 2015, the state legislative assembly even formed a House Committee to work out ways to provide legal cover to dhirios in Goa by amending existing laws.
In 2018, Goa’s Animal Husbandry Minister Mauvin Godinho also told the state legislative assembly that the BJP-led coalition government would lobby with the central government for legalisation of bullfighting.