This rings true in Punjab where Bullys and Pitbulls are being bred to fight. In a bloodsport where the losing dog often ends up dead. If not in the jaws of another dog, then at the hands of his master.
They can be clubbed with hockey sticks, poisoned with naphthalene, electrocuted or drowned to death with legs tied. A sport that is soon spreading to the National Capital Region from neighbouring Punjab.
One kilogram of raw mutton. Two hundred and fifty grams of ghee mixed with almonds and shredded chicken. Two litres of milk. Half-an-hour of swimming in ice-cold water. Another hour of running and ending the day with chasing down and hunting a live chicken.
This is the daily dietary and training regimen of the Bully Kutta (the Pakistani Mastiff or simply called the Bully) in Fazilka district of Punjab, bordering Rajasthan. Known as the ‘Beast from the East’ for its incredible shoulder muscles and formidable lock-jaw strength, the Bully Kutta is being fed and bred furiously for the sole purpose of fighting to kill or be killed. This beast, known for its aggressiveness, guarding prowess and unflinching loyalty to its owner, has become a rage in an area that could be India’s own Wild West, with cowboy Jatt Sikhs lording over massive fields, ‘shaukis’ of guns and open jeeps, connoisseurs of premium doda (opium) and crazy about horses, Terriers and Bullys.
Welcome to the dark and heinous world of dogfighting, a bloodsport raging in Punjab. In this Punjabi version of Amores Perros, there is no mercy. Dogs that lose can and will be killed by the owner whose fragile ego has been punctured. Worse still, what remains of the Bully after the fight is a horrendous sight. Ghastly injuries. Eyes gouged out. Ears ripped apart. Ruptured windpipes. And bitten-off tongues. An intense Bully Kutta fight can go on for an hour, in a crescendo of increasing intensity, or till the owner takes pity on the losing dog and concedes defeat to the opponent fighter.
This barbaric sport, banned in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is catching up across Punjab, with Bhatinda and Fazilka districts as hotbeds. It is also gaining popularity in Haryana and the National Capital Region. This came to light after an NGO, Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO), rescued a Bully Kutta at Badshahpur, near Gurgaon, before it was to take part in a fight.
The Bully, a hybridised mastiff, has been around for a while now. Mughal Emperor Akbar used the Bully Kutta along with cheetahs in hunting expeditions.
Dogfighting as a sport is not new to Punjab either. In fact, there are accounts of dogfighting in Bewal (now in Pakistan’s Rawalpindi district) during the reign of Ranjit Singh, the first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire. The bloodsport was also widely organised in Afghanistan after the end of the Taliban rule, which had banned the sport for being un-Islamic. Over the years, Bullys came to be used as guard dogs but people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India continued to harness their aggressiveness and strength by making them fight bloody duels. In India though, the rapid resurgence of this sport, which was thought to be confined to only Punjabi Muslims across the fence, has been an unnoticed phenomenon over the past five years.
Usually the preserve of the sons of rich landlords, the sport is not an organised one and is largely arranged by a select few who also breed these dogs. In some cases, specialised kennels that supply these dogs often advertise as “bred solely for fighting purposes”. Passions run high; owners are known to pay a high premium for litters of famous fighting dogs.
The dogfighting season in Punjab begins with the advent of winter and goes on till March. This is because Bullys have greater stamina in the winter months, unlike in the hot Punjab summer. In fact, Bully Kuttas can die in the summer heat if they exert too much in fights. Hence, summer is used to train the dogs and mate them. Owners shackle dogs with heavy iron chains that can weigh up to 2 kg. Extra weights are added to the chain so that even when the dog is on a stroll, they strengthen its upper body. Pictures in TEHELKA’s possession show that some owners even file the dog’s teeth, to give them the ‘shark bite’ during fights. But most dogs with a prized bloodline are not used in fights. They are used solely for breeding purposes. Still other dogs with unbeaten records are retired after the age of six, and used solely for breeding.
‘The Bully Kutta has to fight to survive. There is so much energy in this dog that it needs to be channelised properly,’ says Lali Brar, a breeder
LALI BRAR, a resident of Muktsar, loves his prized Bullys as much as he loves to see them tear their opponents in intense dogffights. However, a farmer by profession and Bully breeder by passion, Lali is unapologetic about seeing his dogs rip other dogs apart in fights, often attended by village folk. “The Bully Kutta is the tiger of the canines,” says Lali. “It has to fight to survive. There is so much energy in this dog that it needs to be channelised properly. Otherwise, it will become irritable. We don’t let it sit on concrete floors, as the heavy bones will lead to calloused joints, which can spoil the look. We make them run only on soil. The owner has to have a clear mind and an air of authority. If it senses insecurity, the Bully will go for the kill. People in cities don’t care about their dogs as much as we do. It costs thousands of rupees and a lot of time.”
However, the contention that the Bully and Pitbull Terriers are “killers dogs” is rubbished by dog-lovers. Amarinder Singh, a kennel-owner in Patiala, who breeds Pitbulls, says, “It’s wrong to say that these dogs are born to fight. These are brilliant guard dogs loyal only to their owner. They will lay down their lives protecting you, but attack everyone else. It is unfortunate that the Bully and the Pitbulls are being used for fighting in Punjab.”
In Lali’s family though, a winning dog is a matter of pride and honour. “My grandfather says the day our dog loses a fight, we will never make him fight again.”
DURING THE fighting season, owners fix the date and time just a day before the bout. News spreads to surrounding villages and people turn up in enthusiastic numbers — kids accompanied by grandfathers, relatives from Australia and UK, and farm labourers. “We place bets of Rs 1 lakh with friends. But sometimes, it is just for pride. Money is no thrill. The thrill is to see the dog you have brought up with so much care putting up a good fight,” says Lali. This is in stark contrast to dogfights in Pakistan, where the owner of the winning dog often gets prizes like television sets, refrigerators, table fans and cash prizes.
The fights, however, are not a free-forall between dogs. There are certain unwritten rules — to prevent unfair advantage to any dog. For dogfighting, the preference in Punjab is for two breeds: the Bully Kutta, which fights with only a Bully, and the American Pitbull Terrier. Bullys are the ‘heavyweights’. A well-bred and trained dog can weigh anywhere between 75 and 85 kg. The Pitbull Terrier, although half the Bully’s size, is known for its doggedness during fights. Among Bullys, the massive and temperamental Pakistani Bully Kutta is also a preferred choice. Contrary to what people may think, the bets stack up in favour of the Pitbull, in the unlikely event that they are pitted against each other. Says Lali, “The Pakistani Bullys are known to run away from the fight when they cannot take it anymore. Though smaller, the Pitbull will never give up and can even die during the duel. Even while losing, it keeps going at the other dog. Bullys can’t survive the persistent assault of the Pitbull.”
The craze for Pakistani Bullys has meant that dogs are sometimes smuggled in freight consignments into India from across the border. Several strains of ‘champion dogs’ are in high demand in Pakistan’s Punjab province, in towns like Bhawalpur and Gujranwala. TEHELKA’s investigation revealed the existence of a “Bully Kutta factory” in the industrial town of Gujranwala, which also happens to be the birthplace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Named “GK Bully Factory”, the Gujranwala breeder claims to offer some of the most “coveted champions”, like a dog named ‘Kalu’ which has won “several fights in the Bhawalpur region, has clipped ears and a docked tail”.
The owner warns people not to waste his time and only “genuine buyers who know the worth of this massive creature” may contact him. Similarly, there are other so-called farms in Gujranwala that offer the bloodline of “Jogi”— a much famed Bully. Jogi’s fighting credentials make him one of the most prized fighting dogs in the region. In fact Jogi — a Nagi Bully Kutta (Bullys with a lion-like gait and massive jaws) — is known to have remained undefeated through 30 fights, in the Bhawalpur region of Pakistan.
But Indian breeders are wary of Pakistani businessmen. There are cases where in spite of paying a hefty amount, the dogs did not arrive across the border. Says a Bully dog owner in Punjab’s Abohar, on the condition of anonymity, “I lost Rs 1 lakh trying to deal with a Pakistani Bully seller. You have to entice them with loads of money to come to Attari and deliver the dog. Otherwise, they don’t believe in carrying out a fair business deal.”
Bully Kutta sellers say it is difficult to get dogs from Pakistan but not impossible. “We either get puppies in freight consignments or through couriers travelling via the Thar Express, or sometimes at Attari,” says the dog owner. Despite the risks, Punjabi breeders are willing to buy the Pakistani Bully since the returns are very lucrative. “I can pay anywhere between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 4 lakh for a good Pakistani Bully. In two months, there are four puppies in a litter. A puppy sells for around Rs 60,000 to Rs 80,000.”
The BSF, on the other hand, says it is unaware of any dog-smuggling happening either over the fence or through consignments. Aditya Mishra, IG, BSF (Punjab Frontier), says, “It is impossible to just throw a dog over the fence as BSF jawans usually open fire at any suspected movement. The easiest way to get dogs is through freight consignments and we will now be looking out for dog smugglers. So far, I have never heard of anyone trying to smuggle dogs from across the border.”
Animal rights activists have also lashed out against the cruel practices dog owners follow to prepare it for a fight. Pictures in TEHELKA’s possession show that dog owners “clip the ears and dock the tails”. This is done to deprive the opponent dog of any biteable part. Anti-dogfight activists have also slammed dog owners for pumping the canines with anabolic steroids to make them gain muscle mass.
However, the fighter-breeders deny it, “We care for our dogs more than the people living in cities who feed them processed dog food. We believe in giving them desi diets full of meats, milk, and ghee.”
The craze for Pakistani Bullys has meant that dogs are sometimes smuggled in freight consignments into India from across the border
There has also been a huge outcry over the gruesome treatment of dogs that lose a fight. There have been reports of poisoning losing Bullys with naphthalene balls. In extreme cases, owners, who cannot swallow their loss or pride, tie the dog’s feet and throw it in a canal, leading to a grisly death. Some rabid owners will even grab the dog by its tail and smash its head repeatedly on the ground till it dies. Winning dogs suffer too. The gashes are often smeared with red chilli powder and turmeric, and antibiotics are administered without medical guidance.
Punjab DGP SS Saini has been petitioned by BJP MP and dog lover Maneka Gandhi to stop the practice of dogfighting, but hasn’t yet evinced a response. When contacted, Saini said, “I personally do not have time for this. But I will put in a word with the SPs of Fazilka and Bhatinda.”
Police officials of the districts also betray their ignorance about dogfights. Gurinder Singh Dhillon, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Fazilka says, “I have heard about cockfights as a kid, but never dogfights. Not a single instance has been brought to my notice, in my district at least.” Rajinder Singh, ADGP, Welfare, Punjab Police, says, “I have been in service for 30 years and I have never come across a case of dogfighting in Punjab. Also, I think dogs fighting among themselves does not constitute an offence under any section of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).”
This interpretation of the bloodsport means that none of the organisers are booked, even though under Section 428 of the IPC, “killing, poisoning, maiming or rendering useless any animal or animals of the value of Rs 10 or upwards shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both”.
In extreme cases, owners, who cannot swallow their loss or pride, tie the dog’s feet and throw it in a canal, leading to a grisly death
The bloodsport in Punjab also attracts provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. The Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO), an animal rights NGO that rescued a Bully Kutta from Gurgaon, has also petitioned the Animal Welfare Board. FIAPO was shocked to discover photos of injured dogs put up by their owners on Facebook. Its volunteers forwarded them with a note to the authorities concerned in Punjab, but were mostly greeted with indifference.
What is of greater concern, however, is that this bloodsport is fast spreading to other parts of north India. There are Bully Kutta breeders in Fatehabad, near Sirsa in Haryana. In some farms in Fatehabad, Bullys are trained by unleashing them on deers, for ‘exercise’.
Sumit Godara, a breeder based in Abohar, Punjab, affirms there is a growing interest in dogfighting across India. Godara claims to have got requests for the Bully from as far as Kochi and Bengaluru. Godara is believed to be close to breeder-fighters in Punjab, but denies he has ever sold his Bullys for the purpose of fighting. “Some buyers call up to say that the dog does not fight. I usually explain to buyers that not every Bully Kutta will fight. A buyer from Gurgaon offered me Rs 1.8 lakh for my prized Bully Sheru. But I’m not selling as I want to use him for breeding. I personally cannot stand that a dog I have cared for is grievously injured in a fight.”
There is also a sizeable number of dogfighters in Punjab who actively scout for aggressive bloodlines in other states of India, especially Rajasthan, where Muslim Jats are known to be fond of this breed. One of them is Sukhraj (name changed), who is just out of school and his elder brother is a dogfighter. He has an interesting story, “My elder brother gave me my first Bully four years ago. We bought it out of sympathy from a family in Rajasthan. The dog killed their neighbour’s fully grown German Shepherd. The neighbours smashed its head with a brick. I cared for the dog, used it only for breeding and it turned out to be of a prized pedigree. All its offsprings became champions in Ghumti Kalan and Surewala villages.”
It may be difficult to ascertain where the line between passion and opportunism for the Bully begins. But in the killing fields of Punjab, it barely matters. The Bully is a strong dog that can play with and die for its owner. But in present-day Punjab, it seems destined to die for its owner’s sadistic and egomaniacal pleasures.
Sai Manish is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.