Every year, the harvest festival brings excitement and colors to the skies of India. This is especially true for the state of Gujarat which is filled with variously shaped and colored kites during the week starting from January 11th. Uttarayan is an international Kite Festival celebrated with immense zeal across Gujarat. In fact, this festival is an eminent attraction to tourist from around the world including UK, Canada, Brazil, Japan, France etc.
Every year, the harvest festival brings sadness and grief to bird lovers and tension to two-wheeler riders across the country. So far, the year 2014 has been kinder to the birds with just 1150 injuries (as per Gujarat forest department) and only 10 amputations of protected birds (falling under Schedule 1 of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972) during Uttarayan. Of course, reliable country-wide stats are missing. The Jivdaya Charitable Trust, a veterinary group based in Ahmedabad, has already treated 1,500 birds. The species on the report’s list of casualties range from common neighborhood pigeons, knob-billed ducks and vultures to kites, peregrine falcons, and lesser flamingos.
Kite flying tradition was brought to India due to the patronage of nawabs and kings. Gradually, by the end of 20th century, kite flying became a major social event in India with myriad shapes and colors invented every year. Obviously, this year the kites with the faces of Arvind Kejriwal, Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi trended across city markets.
What the Chinese used for conducting experiments, measuring distances and wind speed, and even spying, we used for pleasure. In due course of time, the love for kite flying turned into kite fighting; the idea being cutting an opponent’s string or manja in a drive to win! The million-dollar industry took notice of this rampant urge to win and off started the hunt for sharpest, most ductile and tensile kite strings! So, the Chinese manja was born; beautifully vibrant and made of nylon (non-biodegradable), used in making carpets and military equipments. That’s not all, in the next step, these nylon strings are coated with broken glass which is glued to it.
The unsuspecting birds are unable to adapt to this sudden overpowering of their abode and get their wings, feet and necks often cut off as the kite flying celebrations go on amidst the happy screams of “Aaiye bo”, “gayi bola re” or “kai poche”. The unlucky ones succumb to their injuries and die in the gutters while a few lucky ones are rescued by a bunch of rehabilitators and rushed for immediate treatment. Once the derelict festivities are over, the remnant manja remains on the trees, poles, electric wires and other structures forming an effective trap for birds all year-round who even carry these death trap to build their homes.
Fewer deaths and accidents of people were reported due to this killer manja this year. Mukesh Patel, a 13-year-old boy, was electrocuted after the manja from his kite became entangled in an electric wire on January 22 in Mumbai. A 5 year old almost lost her eye to stray manja while a biker was grossly injured in a manja-caused accident. But then, such incidents often go unreported. After-all, how much is one life worth in an overpopulated nation of over a billion people?
Fortunately, there is hope at the end of this dark blood-bathed tunnel. In 2009-10, it was banned in cities like Chennai and Mumbai. In 2011, manja for flying kites was banned in Ludhiana, Jagraon and Khanna districts of Punjab. The sporadic nature of these bans and absence of efficient law and implementation has failed to prevent the illegal sale and use of Chinese manja. In an endeavour to put an end to this massacre, Nashik based organization, Nature Forever Society, is petitioning the central and state governments to impose a nationwide ban with efficient legal implementation of Chinese manja.