Away from the Supreme Court order restraining the Tamil Nadu government from holding Jallikattu bullfights, a debate is playing out in Assam on fights between members of a smaller species, the bulbul.
Every Makar Sankranti, which coincides with Assam’s harvest festival Bhogali Bihu, bulbul fights are organised in the Hayagriva-Madhava temple in Hajo, about 30 km from Guwahati. Last month, ruling in a case between the Assam government and the temple management, Gauhati HC had allowed the tradition to continue. On Tuesday, the court stayed that order, effectively prohibiting bulbul fights.
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The stay order evoked strong protests Wednesday, with the doloi (head priest) of the temple sitting on an indefinite fast. “We are not against the court order, but we are hurt because the bulbul fight is part of the religious traditions of our temple. Moreover, we take utmost care of the birds and release them after the fights are over,” said Shiva Prasad Sarma, doloi of the Hayagriva-Madhava temple. While he fasted on the temple premises, other members of the temple committee staged a sit-in .
People of surrounding villages catch bulbul chicks and rear them for a few weeks before they are taken to the temple premises on Makar Sankranti; the owners of the winners get various prizes. The birds do sustain injuries during the fight. Those that lose are let off after trimming the crest so that they do not enter a contest again. There is no betting on the fights.
Moves to ban the tradition began in January last year when the Assam government issued an order, based on earlier SC orders. The temple committee challenged it through a writ petition. On December 22, a single judge bench stopped operation of the government order.
The Animal Welfare Board of India challenged the court order. On Tuesday evening, Justice Rumi Kumari Phukan, holding a vacation court, invoked the SC’s earlier orders and stayed the high court’s December 22 order. The judge suggested that the matter be later taken up by a division bench.