After an interlocutory application was made by PETA India, Gauhati High Court issued directions mandating that authorities ensure strict enforcement of the standard operating procedure (SOP) governing the conduct of animal fights in Assam – namely that buffalo fights may be conducted only between 15 and 25 January and bulbul fights only on the occasion of Magh Bihu – thereby restricting all further unauthorised fights in the state. The state government has been directed to file a reply to PETA India’s writ petitions challenging the decision to allow buffalo and bulbul fights as well as the SOP issued in this regard.
Through the interlocutory application, PETA India pointed out that unauthorised fights continue to take place in the state, highlighting an event that was scheduled to happen on 4 and 5 February in Hatigarh, Nagaon district. Vide an order dated 1 February, Gauhati High Court immediately took cognizance, directing the district administration to take action, which led the district commissioner to order that the unauthorised buffalo fight be stopped. In compliance with the orders, the police authorities prevented the event and all promotional posters were promptly removed.
In its writ petitions with the Gauhati High Court, PETA India makes the case for the cruel spectacles of buffalo and bulbul fighting to be prohibited once again, citing numerous violations of central law in the conduct of these events. As evidence, PETA India submitted investigations into these fights, which reveal that terrified and severely injured buffaloes were beaten to force them to fight and that bulbuls were kept hungry to force them to fight for food.
An investigation into a buffalo fight held in Ahatguri in the Morigaon district of Assam on 16 January revealed that to instigate buffaloes to fight, owners slapped, pushed, and shoved them; jabbed and struck them with wooden sticks; and pulled them by their nose ropes to force them to approach one another. When fights were underway, some owners and handlers jabbed the buffaloes with sticks and whacked them with bare hands to cause them further distress. The buffaloes locked horns and fought, sustaining bloody wounds to their necks, ears, faces, and foreheads – many had injuries all over their body. The fights lasted until one of the two buffaloes broke away and fled.
A similar investigation conducted into a bulbul bird fight held in Hajo in Assam on 15 January revealed that red-vented bulbuls – who are protected under Schedule II of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 – were illegally captured and incited, against their natural instincts, to fight over food. It is reported that the birds are captured several days before the fight. Capturing protected wild birds is considered a form of hunting and is illegal.
During the fight, a piece of banana is dangled in front of the hungry birds, inciting them to attack each other. Each fight lasted approximately five to 10 minutes, and handlers forced exhausted birds to continue fighting by repeatedly blowing air on them.
PETA India’s writ petition to the High Court points out that the buffalo and bulbul fights violate the Constitution of India; The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960; and judgements of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, including in Animal Welfare Board of India vs A Nagaraja. Such fights are inherently cruel, cause immeasurable pain and suffering to the animals forced to participate, and contradict the tenets of ahimsa (non-violence) and compassion, which are integral to Indian culture and tradition. Allowing these events to continue is a regressive step which threatens to undo almost a decade of progress in human and animal rights.