Kites will fill the skies in many parts of India on Wednesday for the festival of Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan, celebrating the onset of spring, but conservationists will be fearing the worst as they brace for another year of avian fatalities.
The Jivdaya Charitable Trust (JCT), an animal welfare NGO, attended to 2,394 injured birds in Ahmedabad, the heartland of the kite flying festival, in the Indian state of Gujarat around this time last year. Of these, 490 died.
Sherwin Everett, a volunteer with JCT, said casualties of the kite-flying season started trickling in from November. Just days ago the NGO rescued a bar headed goose with cuts on its wings and fractured legs. The migratory bird is among the world’s highest flying birds and crosses the Himalayas to spend winter in India.
The injuries are caused by ‘manja’, the string used to fly kites. Gummed and coated with powdered glass, the strings are made dangerously sharp to slash the thread of an opponent’s kite mid-air during kite fights.
Birds fly into these strings or are entangled in them, causing deep cuts to their wings, nerve injuries, fractures, dislocations and, in many cases, death.
So grave is the crisis that the Wildlife Trust of India’s Emergency Rescue Network (ERN), which responds to natural disasters like cyclones and floods, views the kite festival as a man-made disaster.
Several volunteers and veterinarians work round-the-clock to rescue birds during Sankranti, but owing to the scale of emergencies more help is always needed, said Radhika Bhagat, the head of ERN. “We particularly need more veterinary surgeons,” she said.
While there is no comprehensive compilation of the number of birds affected throughout India during the festival, Bhagat said the numbers were “definitely in the thousands”.
Urban birds such as pariah kites, rose-ringed parakeets, pigeons and barn owls are commonly injured across India’s cities. In western India the festival also coincides with the winter visit of a large number of migratory birds, raising the toll.
Karthik Shastri, from the Bird Conservation Society of Gujarat said at least 100 species of bird, including many threatened species, have been injured. Among the species rescued in recent years by the JCT are sarus cranes, peacocks, birds of prey such as peregrine falcons, Steppes eagles, Indian spotted eagles; migratory birds such as ibises, flamingos, pelicans, lapwings and several species of geese and ducks (including bar headed geese, grey lag geese, comb ducks and whistling teal ducks) among others.
Of particular concern is the festival’s impact on vultures, already endangered around the globe. Shastri said there are records of injured Egyptian vultures and Eurasian griffons, while the critically-endangered white rumped vultures are victims every year.
“Vultures are on the decline throughout the world due to diclofenac [a veterinary drug], here they face an additional danger,” he said.
“The eggs of the white rumped vultures hatch in January and the birds scout for food for fledglings at least three times a day. Injured birds leave fledglings starving, further impacting their numbers.”
Mehul Pathak, founder of the Vibrant Kite Club that promotes kite flying, said the growing number of the festival’s human and bird victims was disturbing but “people are still crazy about it”. India’s prime minister Narendra Modi tweeted about the festival as Gujarat’s chief minister last year.
In Gujarat, the festival is strongly embedded in local culture and cuts across religious differences in arguably one of the most polarised states of India. Families usually spend their entire day on the terraces and rooftops. Kite flyers feel passionately about Uttarayan and eagerly await for 14 January. On the day, many keep a leader board to keep a tally of their score and fly kites late into the night.
The festival also features prominently in the state tourism calendar and since 1989 the city of Ahmedabad has been hosting International Kite Festival. With millions celebrating the festival and feeling very strongly about it, people are often indifferent to bird safety messages.
However, some precautions can make kite-flying safer, Pathak says. “Fly kites in open grounds, carefully dispose strings entangled in trees in your neighbourhood and use uncoated cotton threads.”
Nikunj Sharma, a campaigner for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) India, said the use of ‘Chinese manja’ made of nylon instead of cotton has made the injuries severe. “Unlike cotton strings these are non-biodegradable, don’t break easily, and continue to cause injuries months after the festival.”
The unsafe kite string has already claimed a human life this year. Owing to human and animal casualties, Mumbai was among the first cities to ban manja in 2009. Other Indian cities including Jaipur, Bareilly and Amritsar have also banned the thread. The south Indian city of Chennai made kite-flying a non-bailable offence a few years ago.
In September last year India’s ministry of environment and forests issued an advisory to states on the use of manja. “Killing of wildlife is illegal under the wildlife protection act (1972),” it stated.
However “a country-wide blanket ban on Chinese manja is needed immediately,” said Sharma.
Introduction: Makar Sankranti, also known as the Kite festival, is a popular Hindu festival. It is known as Maghi in Punjab. In Uttar Pradesh, the festival is known as ‘Khichiri’. In Gujarat and Rajasthan, the festival is known as Uttarayan.
Due to the variation in tradition through different cultures of India, the celebration procedure and myths behind the festival varies from region to region. The festival is dedicated to Sun God.
Why is Makar Sankranti celebrated? Makar Sankranti is observed to celebrate the transition of sun into the zodiac house of Capricorn. The Hindi version of Capricorn is “Makara”. Hence this day is known as “Makar Sankranti”. Sun God is worshiped at many places.
Makar Sankranti is a harvest festival. It is celebrated to mark the arrival of spring season.
Kite Flying: Flying kites are seen on the sky. This is done to please the Sun God.
Celebration: Makar Sankranti is generally celebrated a day after the Lohri fesitval. It is generally celebrated on 14th day of January every year.
- It is extensively celebrated in different parts of India.
- People wear new clothes and distribute sweets.
- People take holy bath on this day.
- Fairs (melas) are held in many cities.
- World famous Kumbh mela is held every 12 years in the holy places.
- People make sweets of sesame seeds (til). Semame sweets are traditionally consumed in India. It is very tasty and helps us to maintain good health.
- The festival of Makar Sankranti is very important because it refers to the transition of sun into the zodiac house of Capricorn.
- Makar Sankranti promotes a feeling of sense of unity among peoples.
- People forget their past grievances and forgive one another.
- Since it is a harvest festival, it is of utmost importance for the farmers.
Category: Essays, Paragraphs and ArticlesTagged With: Indian Festivals