NEW DELHI: The Assam government finally issued a directive which proscribes animal races and fights, particularly buffalo and bulbul fights, in the state during the festival of Bihu eight months after the Supreme Court order prohibiting the same.

The decision has also come a week after Humane Society International /India (HSI), along with Animal Welfare Board of India had written a letter to Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi urging him to take action to stop the buffalo and bulbul fights and comply with the apex court’s judgment.

Every year, hundreds of buffaloes, bulbuls and cocks are forced to participate in fights for a mere reward of several hundred/thousand rupees.

This year as well, such fights were scheduled to be held between 14th and 16th January i.e the time during which Bihu would be celebrated throughout the state.

However, this latest directive by the state government to the Deputy Commissioners of all districts and the Commissioner of Police, Guwahati would damper this tradition this year.

State Home Secretary and Commissioner LS Changsan, in a directive sent to all deputy commissioners and the Commissioner of Police, Guwahati City, has asked them to ensure the prohibition in compliance of a Supreme Court order and directed them to deploy sufficient police personnel in all such places. The directive also called for seizure of all animals and birds used for such fights.

Changsan’s order read “Prosecute persons who own such birds/animals including those who conduct or organise such fights since allowing these fights to continue would be a gross violation of the order of the Honourable Supreme Court of India”.

District authorities in turn have particularly focused on Ahatguri in Morigaon district and Hajo in Kamrup, where buffalo fight and bulbul fight respectively are major attractions during Bhogali Bihu or Magh Bihu.

Ahatguri, a village in the Morigaon district of Assam, is popular for its buffalo fights and has been organising these tournaments since 1972 for entertainment purposes. As per HSI, these brutal tournaments usually result in severe injuries or death of the animals.

The Supreme Court of India, on 7 May, 2014 had passed an order in the Animal Welfare Board of India vs A Nagaraja and others case, prohibiting all animal races and fights, thereby directing the Animal Welfare Board of India and the government to prevent infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering to animals.

The order further ensures that animal caretakers should not incite any animal to fight against a human being or another animal.

Welcoming the directive by the government, HSI Managing Director, N.G. Jayasimha said: “We are grateful to the Government of Assam for the directions they have issued. We hope that the deputy commissioners will ensure that this is implemented in letter and spirit and that no animal is made to suffer for the sake of our entertainment”.

However, animal fights and races are intrinsic to the celebrations of Magh or Bhogali Bihu and this directive has proved to be an impediment in the age-old tradition.

Many groups and organisers of such buffalo/bulbul fights insisted that they cannot forego the age-old traditions of Bihu Festival, and that they always ensure no animals are injured.

Additionally, many organisers of such competitions have also said that they would approach the Supreme Court for exemptions.