There is a season almost every year when police stations and courts in Coimbatore district’s rural areas briefly resemble mini-rooster farms or an auction shandy (market).
In February and March, the post-harvest season leaves the farmers with little work and rooster fights become common, with hundreds of previously illegal fights organised in the farmlands. The duels were recently legalised.
For the police, the challenge now is to enforce compliance to the Madras High Court’s guidelines and ensure that no bets are placed in the fights and to ensure that the birds are not subjected to cruelty by strapping them with blades. Their job gets trickier if they happen to seize the roosters that were illegally used for betting.
Technically, a property seized for being used in an offence must be produced in the courts as evidence and then kept in custody of the respective magistrate court. It takes a day or two for the police to produce the roosters in the court and during this time they have the unpleasant job of taking care of the seized roosters. “Most of the time, we ask the relatives of the accused to come to the station to feed the birds and keep an eye on them. But there are times when none of them would be willing and we have to depute a constable with experience in bird-rearing for the job,” says a police inspector in Coimbatore district.
The officer confesses that there were times when the birds would go missing from the station and they had to fudge the records over the number of birds seized. “We can’t put them in lockups right? They can be kept only in open spaces in the station and there is always a possibility that the roosters will stray.”
Something similar happened in April 2013, when a farmer whose goat was stolen came to a Madurai court just so that a judge could give his recovered animal back to him. When it was in police custody, the men in khaki struggled with it. “Knowing that it is difficult to feed the goat, we requested the judge on Sunday to produce it at his residence, but he rejected our plea,” recalls a police officer.
Recalling another incident reported a few years ago in Madurai city, the police officer says: “Once our senior officer was asked to book a case against a person who used an elephant for begging on the streets of Madurai.” When the elephant was taken to court, a police team had to spend the entire day herding the pachyderm. “Judges never understand the difficulties we face in handling the animals. Handling cases of vehicles is a piece of cake; but there should be some institutional arrangement to help us handle the cattle theft cases,” the officer says.
Then there was the case of emu birds seized in Theni district in 2010. Three police personnel sustained injuries when capturing 50 emus in Uthamapalayam, recalls a senior officer. “Though we expressed difficulties in bringing the emus to the court and requested the judge to visit the spot for verification instead, he refused,” the officer says.
When birds are taken to courts, the usual procedure of keeping the evidence in police custody till it is resolved is not possible since the property is a living animal. The only way for courts to address the situation is to auction the animals and remit the proceeds to the State’s treasury. “Usually the offenders readily confess to the charges as only a fine of Rs 100 is imposed. So there is no necessity for the birds to be maintained in the court’s custody. They are auctioned on the court’s premises and a fighter rooster that is priced around `5,000 in the market, could be sold for just Rs 500,” says a judicial officer. Even before the police take the birds to court, the villagers would get wind of it and assemble. And for a change, the judge’s gavel will turn for a day into an auction bell.