Blood glistens again in the sunlight as specially-bred and reared fighter bulls take on one another openly once more, following the legalising of bullfighting in Goa. Now, without fearing the law, spectators can egg on the animals in the local form of bullfighting called dhirio, which has its parallel only in South Korea.
After the Supreme Court banned the sport in 1998, dhirios have been fly-by-night affairs often broken up by the police. But the state legislature's recent decision to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, legalising bullfighting in Goa, may just give renewed life to a sport that was once rivalled only by football in terms of popularity.
A typical dhirio involves two specially reared fighting bulls, head-butting each other until one scampers away from the ring, which is lined by thousands of baying spectators, several of whom gamble on the outcome. Large sums of money change hands.
In Goa, a bull fights another bull rather than a matador as in Spain. The sport here is similar to one in South Korea, called Ch'ongdo, which has been held for over 1,000 years.
"Bullfights used to be held after church feasts in the 1960s," recalls Flaviano Dias, a septuagenarian freedom fighter.
However, with the ban in place, dhirios were more or less relegated from a public spectacle to a fly-by-night event.
Deputy Superintendent of Police (South) S.N. Sawant said that on an average, 20 cases were booked annually against dhirio organisers in his subdivision when the sport was banned.
"Organisers of these fights were fined a few hundred rupees for the first offence," Sawant told IANS.
The fines were a pittance compared to the amount of money changing hands on bets. "The reason these bullfights occurred even during the ban are the rural betting syndicates that bet lakhs (hundreds of thousands) on the bulls," a former sarpanch and an avid bullfighting aficionado told IANS.
"An average bullfight sees betting to the tune Rs.5 lakh (Rs.500,000). Each fighting circus has at least four to six bulls, which means two or three fights," another bullfight regular said.
"Raising the bull involves a lot of money considering their rich diet. On an average, we spend from Rs.50,000 to Rs.1 lakh (Rs.100,000) on the animal, till the time it is three to four years old and ready to step into the ring," said a bull owner from the coastal village of Colva.
Vice chairman of Goa Tourism Development Corporation Lyndon Monteiro told IANS: "Dhirio is a traditional sport and it will definitely encourage tourism."
Padma shree awardee advocate Norma Alvares, whose constant efforts had resulted in the ban on dhirios in the first place, said that the blood-sport was a clear violation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. "It's an offence for anyone to incite an animal to fight with another or to organise an animal fight," she said.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)