On 14th January starts the Uttarayan festival In Gujarat.It is no longer celebrated with song and dance but by flying kites. During this day of killer kites dancing in the skies, hundreds of birds are killed. Imagine yourself as a bird flying though what you think is open blue sky. Suddenly your leg or wing is sliced off by an invisible thread. This is the “manjha” of the kite- twine encrusted with powdered glass, razor sharp threads that cuts the bird wings like a sharp knife that shears through soft flower stems. The bird plummets to the ground, dying as it hits the ground or lying in agony for hours till it dies. The manjha is banned in all countries except India Animal welfare groups across India are run off their feet for the three days of Uttarayan and a month after that, simply picking up dying birds. Less than 1 % will survive. If you believe that kite flying is safe in the city ,go and look at the animal shelters. The city birds that live on terraces and city trees , all fall victim. Most of the calls that come to the rescue help-line are of the birds with open wounds, wings cut in half and bleeding profusely.hanging upside down having fallen on trees or cable wires. Most of them cannot be rescued as the Fire department is also racing around for the same calls. These birds may not have died of their wounds but of hunger, thirst and shock.Even pigeons who are low flying fall victim to the web of these sharp threads .
Last year, Prayas ,an animal welfare group in Surat ,received 162 calls during the kite-flying season . 14 were dead, some were simply entangled in kite threads and needed to be freed. 79 birds were found injured and were taken to a trauma centre that Prayas had set up to stop bleeding and treat bird injuries.The species were pigeons, crows, pariah kites , koels, barn owls,owlets . A Brahmini Duck and a Gray Headed Gull also found with their wings slashed and almost separated from their body. 23 birds were saved but will never fly again.
The Jains in Surat have started an aggressive campaign to stop kite flying. The advertisements in the papers read Unche aabh ma ude chhe pelo paap no patang (There flies the kite of sins) "If the price of kite is Rs 5, what is the worth of a bird's life?" posters and notices showing how the killer thread kills birds have come up on buildings.Joining the mission - say no to kite flying- thousands of Jain families have decided not to fly kites on Uttarayan. Religious heads, have joined the campaign and brought it up in their discourses around Gujarat. The international animal welfare organisation IFAW and Wildlife Trust of India have also joined the campaign.
Bangalore has an annual kite festival held by different kite clubs during this time when people come from all over south India to participate. It is held on the edges of a lake inhabited by birds. Most of the people participating are professional kite makers and sellers who use this opportunity to increase their business. Another similar festival is held in Mysore.The main competition is to cut each other’s kite free and this is done with the manjha . In Delhi the season starts again in August .Concerned at the heavy crossfire unleashed across the city's skyline on and around Independence Day, environmentalists warn that kite injuries are becoming a serious hazard for birds. Last year, just one small colony registered 31 bird injuries due to kite-hits . Birds brought to the Jain Bird Hospital opposite Red Fort in August have deep cuts , fractures, wing cuts , nerve injuries and even glass pieces embedded in their bodies. The number of hits has risen over the years with pigeons,mynahs and kites topping the list of victims. The number of birds treated for injury and fracture at the hospital last year was 4,665 with the maximum being kite injury cases in August. The birds picked up a day or two later are usually in very bad shape with infections on their injuries.
In Ludhiana , the local People for Animals group estimates that 20% of the city birds die or are maimed during kite flying which starts in January.People for Animals (PFA) has appealed to the local residents to avoid flying kites . People for Animals has set up six centres all over the city where injured birds will be treated.
The Manjha doesn’t just kill birds. In Pakistan which celebrates Basant to herald spring ,kite flying is a craze. Last year 20 children were killed in Lahore on one day and 500 injured . Some of the children succumbed to wounds, inflicted by the manjha. Though the use of the manjha to fly the kites is banned in Pakistan , the ban was ignored . Seven persons were crushed to death while trying to catch stray kites, six others died after falling from rooftop of their houses. Metal twine is also used for kites and when these fell on power cables , there were major power breakdowns.Two minors were electrocuted when metal twine came in contact with power cables.Rescue officials said they picked up 24 motorcyclists whose throats were cut by twine . So many human lives are lost in the same way in India.
Animals welfare groups across the country and the Jain community are running campaigns asking people not to fly kites T The manjha should be banned by government. In fact kite flying should join the ranks of bullfighting and cockfighting as a sport that needs to be done away with. Don’t fly a kite or , if you must ,shift to the simple thread without any glass pieces. Treat the spring festival as a joyful one for all of India’s citizens and our bird guests that fly home at this time to their own countries.