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Inside India’s illegal Super Bowl of cockfighting, where the roosters wear razors

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The four-lane highway stretches across this flat, riverine part of southern India, flanked by fields of rice and sugar cane. My guide twists around from the passenger seat to offer some advice: Keep a low profile and don’t take pictures. The activity we seek is “strictly prohibited,” he explains. But he assures me his brother-in-law will know where to go.

It is the first day of Makar Sankranti, a major festival that takes place each January to celebrate the harvest and the advent of longer days. People light bonfires, discarding the old and welcoming the new. They prepare feasts and create intricate decorations made from brightly colored powders. And they hold cockfights — many, many cockfights.

Awash in gambling and liquor, the fights are big-money affairs. They’re also entirely illegal. The fact that they persist points to a conundrum of modern-day India: When the rule of law takes on tradition and political muscle, it often loses

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