My mother tongue is Telugu (a Dravidian language of South India). The Telugu-speaking states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have a tradition of raising chicken for food as well as sport. Like the rest of South and South East Asia. After all, this is where the bird was first domesticated. Cockfighting is very popular in Asia, from the barren lands of the Middle East to the steaming jungles of Malaya. Telugu peasants celebrate the festival of Makar Sankranti (marking the northward transition of the Sun) with duels between prize roosters. The best specimens are priced at 100,000 rupees (1 lakh in the Indian system of counting) or more.

People of different religious and ethnic backgrounds developed their own breeds and versions of the sport. Unfortunately, it has run into rough weather after more than 5,000 years of existence. Animal rights groups and judges in India have been cracking down on farming communities which celebrate the coming of spring and the harvesting of crops with cockfights. There is no denying the fact that it is a blood-sport. It also generates income for local betting rings. But blanket bans, heavy fines and seizures of prize fighting roosters seem heavy-handed.

The same resolve is not on display when it comes to big poultry firms. Country chicken, bred either for sport or for food, lead far better lives. Broilers are selected for unnatural growth rates (resulting in physical and physiological abnormalities), reared in unnatural conditions (due to continuous lighting) and slaughtered young (within 5 to 7 weeks). The tremendous success of the poultry industry has been based on such practices. Their rise corresponds with the decline of traditional farming methods. Somehow, this (prolonged) form of cruelty associated with the industry is passe.

Today, people in Europe and the Americas are discovering the virtues of ‘organic, free-range chicken’. This is an admission of the limits of industrialized food production. There is nothing novel about ‘organic farming’. City dwellers (and not just those in the West) have realized that lacing food with fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics is harmful. And a perfect example of diminishing returns. The irony of it lies in the way they are still persecuting and vilifying communities which created the livestock-based economies (at a fraction of the environmental cost associated with industrial economies) of the world in the first place.

Image Attribution: The illustration above is sourced from Wikimedia Commons and based on a photograph taken by the British colonial administrator, ethnographer and naturalist Charles Hose (1863-1929).