21 Mar 2021  |   06:40am IST

Dhirio: Can it be called a Goan tradition any longer?

Dhirio: Can it be called a Goan tradition any longer?

Norma Alvares and Alok Hisarwala Gupta

On March 17, 2020, a week before India was to experience her first single-day lockdown, Goa’s sole parliamentarian in the Rajya Sabha, Vinay Tendulkar, during the zero hour of the winter session of the Parliament – and in a watershed moment for Goa – addressed the upper house in Konkani for the first time in 68 years.
He chose to dedicate the entire one-minute he was granted to making an impassioned appeal that dhirios – a banned and brutal practice – be de-criminalised.
Tendulkar could have chosen, several more relevant topics as Konkani’s debut in our hallowed Parliament. Instead he argued that dhirios should be allowed because they generate employment, entertainment and support tourism.
A cursory survey of annual data over the past 25 years confirms that on all fronts of development, revenue and tourism since December, 1996 – when dhirios were banned – neither Goa’s tourism nor its entertainment calendar been affected in any way by the absence of dhirios. Employment? There are no statistics whatsoever of people employed in the dhirio business since it is illegal. In fact, the Goan economy gains nothing from dhirio, as no tourists come to Goa to watch bull fights. At any rate, why peg the future of tourism in Goa on a violent and bloody sport?
The dhirio is a fight between bulls: two male buffaloes (redde) or two ox bulls (pedde) are brought on a field to lock horns and fight each other. Locking horns is a natural behaviour of male bulls which has been misinterpreted by humans as an urge to fight. But this is not true at all. All male animals engage with one another in different ways of combat to establish hierarchy, to mark territory and secure mating rights. But they do not fight for sport, much less to entertain themselves or other animals. Nor do they engage to kill. The weaker animal simply concedes defeat and leaves the area.
The dhirio today is not some bucolic remnant of Goan history, but an illegal activity controlled and manipulated by a highly powerful and dangerous betting mafia. Even if dhirios were organised once in a year by rural folk during the colonial period as a local form of entertainment, the sport today stands radically transformed by gambling. After the passing of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, declaring a ban on the organisation of animal fights in any form it is no longer possible to continue with such entertainment which is obviously cruel to the animals. But, despite a clear legal ban, these fights have continued for lack of enforcement.
People for Animals first approached the Hon’ble High Court of Goa seeking a ban on dhirios more than two decades ago. The organisation moved the Court because a grand dhirio entertainment programme was proposed to be organised on October 2, 1996 – a day celebrated as Gandhi Jayanti, dedicated to the apostle of non-violence. Just a month earlier, a young man in Fatorda had died after being attacked by a frightened dhirio bull. This confirmed the harsh reality of dhirio and its collateral dangers.
The “All Goa Bull and Buffalo Owners’ Association” argued that not all bull fights are cruel. It also argued against punishing the entire practice because of some – admittedly unfortunate – experiences. The High Court, however, after reviewing all the facts placed before them came to the conclusion that the practice of dhirio is ‘inherently cruel’.
The fight setting in fact requires goading the animal to go beyond its natural comfort level of play to violence. It functions on two principles alone: inducement of fear and impairment of judgement. The fear is induced by the training methods. A dhirio bull is a valued tradeable commodity, often brought down to Goa from the cattle markets of Kolhapur. The bull spends its entire life in a regiment of harsh training. It is made to exercise for 4-6 hours daily through long speed walks on the beach and tarred village roads, while two humans control its every movement with a rope passed through the septum of its nose compelling the animal to pace its movements as desired or suffer intense pain.
While the bull is no doubt fed to meet its nutritional requirement, food also becomes an essential method to exercise control over the animal. The bull soon learns – as an intelligent creature – that its diet depends on its willingness to exercise and fight. But most importantly, a dhirio bull spends a solitary life with no scope for interaction with other cattle. This is what builds both a deep fear and sense of mistrust of the other bull in the fighting arena.
The only thing that has changed in the past 25 years is the monetary stakes. The increasing betting averages have had an unprecedented upward shift in both the frequencies and the brutal nature of these fights.
Ever since the COVID-19 lockdowns, PFA has been flooded with complaints against bull fights via phone calls, emails and messages from local residents of Salcete and Pernem – bearing witness to multiple violent bull fights taking place every weekend, and sometimes every day. To avoid the scrutiny of the police and villagers, the fights happen at the break of dawn or at dusk, in empty comunidade fields, the location announced last minute on secret Whatsapp groups.
But what is not secret is the mistaken pride with which they are celebrated across numerous social media channels on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, where impressionable young men are uploading daily videos of brutal fights. The fights are alleged to be streamed or narrated live for the benefit of Goan merchant seamen on ships across the world, who then place huge bets with their foreign earnings. This has converted a village past-time into an international gambling sport.

The sums staked on each fight increase after the blood begins to ooze. We knew that dhirio bulls were administered steroids to help grow their muscles, but now they are also given highly dangerous amphetamines to impair their judgement for self-preservation, and to make them fight longer. In 1996 itself, Justice RMS Khandeparkar writing the judgement for the Division Bench, had warned that the nature of the fight without any control from human beings and without any restrictions not only causes injuries “but at times the animals can go insane and can inflict injuries to the spectators of such fights.”
Recently in Benaulim, a terrified and allegedly drugged, dhirio bull ran from the fighting arena ramming against the closed Utorda railway crossing twisting the entire metal barricade. It died in the process.
The dhirio is not an innocent annual harvest festival activity anymore, but appears to be happening throughout the year. PFA has documented over 50 dhirio incident reports in the past one year alone, of which eight led to confirmed deaths of the fighting bulls. Some of these incidents made it to the news, there was outrage, but the conviction we need to enforce a strict ban to end this cruel practice is still lacking.
The High Court was therefore right when it observed in 1996, that there is no scope for mitigating the cruelty inherent in dhirio, it had to be banned altogether – especially in light of its commercialisation.
In its judgment the High Court reminded us that dhirios are not consistent with our constitutional and cultural duty to show compassion to animals. “It cannot be disputed that all animals are born with an equal claim for life without any cruelty caused to them.” The court in its judgement directed the Goan public to the inherent values of Dharma and Karuna embedded across our religions and cultures, making compassion and not cruelty the cornerstone of tradition. The Supreme Court echoed the decision of the High Court, and dismissed the appeal against Justice Khandeparkar’s judgement.
The cultural history of Goa is full of compassion, we call it mog in Konkani. We wish our Rajya Sabha MP had spoken instead about the incredible ability of the Goan people to have mog – love, compassion, joviality that draws the entire country and the whole world to Goa   not a cruel animal sport, that can hardly elevate our image anywhere.

{Alok Gupta is the legal officer of People for Animals. Norma Alvares is President of PFA (Goa) }


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