Birds and Kite Flying

Makar Sankranti on 14th January heralds India’s kite festival, particularly in Gujarat, Bihar, and Jharkhand and some parts of West Bengal and Rajasthan. The skies of cities like Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Jaipur, Dhanbad, and Hyderabad are full of kites/patangs through-out the day. People begin flying kites in winter and they are also flown on holidays like Republic Day, Independence Day, Raksha Bandhan and Janmashtami. In fact, kite flying is common during the six month period of Uttarayan which lasts till mid-July, but in Kolkata people fly kites throughout the year.


Since 1989 Ahmedabad has been hosting the International Kite Festival which thanks to political support significantly expands every year. The Gujarat Minister for Industries said in 2014 that the turnover of the kite manufacturing industry could be over Rs 700 crore. In 2012, the kite manufacturing industry of Gujarat was estimated at Rs 175 crore, giving employment to 30,000 people in Ahmedabad alone. The kite-making and selling business has become a round-the-year cottage industry with participation of third generation family members. Most of the paper utilised continues to be obtained from Hyderabad, and the string/manja from Kolkata. Kites come in a myriad of designs and colours, and are handcrafted from a variety of materials like rice paper, butter paper, cloth and some times leather.


Killer Patangs


The string/cord/line used for fighter-kites is called manja which is usually made of cotton (the nylon ones called Chinese manja are deadlier) but an abrasive coat of crushed glass is gummed on to it making it razor sharp – each person tries to make his line the sharpest. Using this manja, colourful paper-cum-bamboo kites are flown from rooftops with the aim of cutting other kite-strings, either by letting the line loose at high speed or by repeatedly yanking it.


The Chinese manja may have originally come from China, but it is said to be made in India. Bad enough that it is used, but worse when abandoned in branches of trees either when cut, kite damaged, or when the kite-flying for the day is over. Birds do not notice it and in an effort to escape from its clutches, flap their wings in panic and the manja cuts them deeper all the while getting further entangled in their feet and bodies resulting in painful amputation and finally they bleed to death. This manja is very difficult to handle or cut, so the least that could be done by users is to gather it together and burn it, certainly not throw it away in the garbage because it can easily hurt birds and other animals that forage on garbage heaps.


The Manja used for Flying Kites unwittingly severely Wounds Birds – and Humans


On being cut, rival kites are seen drifting away with the wind… but innocent birds like kites and pigeons smoothly gliding in the sky are also seen falling limp to the ground. In fact, there are reports of pedestrians and people commuting on two wheelers also being injured/killed with this deadly manja of the ‘cut’ kites slashing their necks and causing loss of blood. If manja hits an electrical pole it can easily transmit electricity because the kite-string would have positively gathered moisture and be damp, more likely wet, and worse if it contains metal. And then, there are the children who in their enthusiasm to catch the ‘cut’ kites also hurt themselves. For example, in January 2013 a 12-year old boy plunged to death from the fourth floor of a building when flying a kite in Pune. A year later on Makar Sankranti 2014 in Nagpur, a man who was riding a scooter that too with a helmet on, suddenly bled to death after his neck was slashed with manja.

 

In January 2016 a 13-year old boy who was walking on the road in Pune got entangled in manja which cut his sensory and tendon nerves 1.5 inches deep that he had to be operated upon and was unable to walk for some months.


In 2017 there was an article on how dangerous it was for the 32 youth consisting of migrant labourers from UP, employed on contract for 6 weeks every year after Uttarayan to “clean” around 130 power lines in Ahmedabad. Their job was to climb up 30-35 metres high transmission towers and remove all entangled kite strings that could cause outages and short-circuits. Interestingly, they some times find thin metallic wires and magnetic tapes stuck to the kites.


The famous Jain Charity Bird Hospital in Delhi treats thousands of birds  like pigeons, kites and even some wild specie of birds, injured by sharp, glass-coated kite/patang manja (catapults and air guns also) throughout the year. In every city where kites are flown at least one bird a day gets entangled in manja and dies.


The fact is that however carefully a kite is flown the manja can unwittingly severely wound birds that are flying in the air. They some how get entangled with the manja, struggle in panic and then fall to the ground. The manja cuts their wings, bodies or feet so deep it results in profuse bleeding and often gruesome death if beheaded. The Fire Brigade in Mumbai says that the maximum calls they get are to rescue birds which have got entangled in manja.


Between 2010 and 2015 in Bengaluru the birds most affected by manja were black kite, crow, rose ringed parakeet, rock pigeon, barn owl, myna, egret, Brahminy kite and white-throated kingfisher. 70% of the birds harmed were black kites and since the species is protected under the Wildlife Protection Act so it could amount to poaching under section 2(16), and hunting under section 9.

 

Also when thrown away, this very manja can easily entangle in birds’ legs and bodies resulting in painful amputation and finally death. It can even hurt other animals that forage in the garbage. It should therefore be completely destroyed by burning. (Ordinary string and thread too is harmful because it can easily entangle in a bird’s feet and hamper its flying capacity which affects its survival.)


Precautions


For years Beauty Without Cruelty studied the problem by witnessing hundreds of injured birds being brought for first aid to Mumbai’s Kabutarkhana (pigeon shelter) on Makar Sankranti and came to the conclusion that although not intentional, flying kites certainly does harm birds. The two solutions widely circulated in the city by Beauty Without Cruelty requested people not to use manja, and not to fly kites in crowded areas or near bird colonies. It was also suggested that Government should not declare Makar Sankranti a holiday so less people would fly kites on the day.

The happy outcome of this Beauty Without Cruelty public awareness campaign was that beginning Makar Sankranti 2005 a lesser number of injury cases have arisen and been brought for treatment as kites in Mumbai are now being flown, presumably without manja on open grounds and away from tall buildings. Unfortunately, this is not so in other cities where kite-fights occur and with the increasing use of the new deadlier Chinese manja. In every place where kites are flown at least one bird a day gets entangled in manja and dies and people get injured frequently.


As manja used for kite flying cuts and profusely bleeds birds as well as humans, many NGOs have taken up the issue. In 2009-10 it was banned in cities like Chennai and Mumbai. The Economic Times reported “Manja ban takes the wind out of Makar Sankranti” and with people losing interest in kite-flying, many kite-makers abandoned their profession. But Gujarat’s 2010 Uttarayan went ahead with kites battling in the sky. Five humans and hundreds of birds also battled for their lives – and died. At least 250 persons and countless birds were seriously injured because of the banned Chinese dori (manja) was sold under the counter. The state government also issued an appeal not to fly kites between 6:00 to 8:00 am and 5:00 to 7:00 pm when more birds fly.


In 2011 manja for flying kites was banned in Ludhiana, Jagraon and Khanna rural districts of Punjab. Also a day after Makar Sankranti that year, the Police banned the sale and use of Chinese kite-string (magnetic, plastic and razor-sharp dor) in Amritsar city and district, because it was responsible for the death of a person and nearly half a dozen were injured by it.


The international annual kite flying festival-competition is held as usual on the banks of the Sabarmati river. In Ahmedabad, Uttarayan 2011 claimed about eight lives, one of which was a four-year old girl whose throat was slit with Chinese dori despite a 2009 ban (never put into practise) on its use for kite-flying. Nearly 300 more humans were injured. But no one counted how many (thousands) birds got injured or died. Similarly, in Jaipur 250 kite flying accidents occurred in 2011 – 30 of which were children. 81 birds were rescued whereas 16 died due to manja injuries.

During 2012 Makar Sankranti in Mumbai 129 birds got injured. As injuries in 2011 were 316, there was a considerable improvement. It was put down to greater awareness resulting in lesser people flying kites. A 50% drop in bird injuries was also recorded in Surat by an NGO. One of the organisations organised a human-like funeral procession for the killed birds. Meanwhile, some jeev daya organisations convinced hundreds of Jain families to say no to kite flying on Uttarayan. However, manja did not spare some critically endangered white-backed vultures – eight were injured around Ahmedabad. And, at Bhavnagar twenty painted storks died due to Chinese manja. Many NGOs in different cities like Jaipur and Ahmedabad, set up initiatives to save birds so that their volunteers could rush to their rescue. In Gujarat the Forest Department declared that of the birds rescued, 90% were pigeons whereas 10% consisted of peacocks, vultures, crows and owls. In Pune too, the majority of birds that got injured were pigeons although a couple of crows were also reported to have been hurt. Kite flying also landed people in hospital: for example many children fell off balconies and terraces, while a few others were cut by the manja while flying kites in Jaipur.

Makar Sankranti 2013 saw a greater awareness of injuries that could occur to birds and humans due to the flying kites. Dos and don’ts were widely circulated via the electronic media and published in newspapers and elsewhere. People were informed who to call for help, and activists in most towns began patrolling areas where kites were being flown. In Mumbai over 300 injured birds (pigeons, crows and owls) were treated.

2014 Uttarayan resulted in 1,904 injured and 490 dead birds at Ahmedabad alone. Wild birds rescued were sarus cranes, peacocks, Egyptian vultures, white rumped vultures, Eurasian griffons, birds of prey such as preregrine falcons, steppes eagles, Indian spotted eagles, migratory birds such as ibises, flamingos, pelicans, lapwings and different species of geese and ducks.

In 2015 Gujarat reported 2,789 mishaps related to kite-flying. One person died in Amraiwadi after he slipped and fell trying to avoid manja coming his way. In fact, 76 road accidents, 22 cases of assault, 21 throat injuries, and 38 cases of falling off the terrace while flying kites were reported from Ahmedabad. Other places in India reported lesser dead birds but almost as many injured ones (50 in Pune) as the year before. This was because first aid was given immediately by animal activists who were on the look out for injured birds.

On 31 January 2016, like in Gujarat, Rajasthan fixed timings during which kites could not be flown: 6 to 8 am and 5 to 7 pm. In May 2016 Andhra Pradesh banned manja. Then in August 2016, after 3 deaths in 2 days, the Delhi government banned kite-flying with manja. The notification stated violators would face a jail term up to 5 years and a fine up to Rs 1 lakh.


In different parts of Gujarat before Uttarayan of January 2017, animal activists started organising awareness drives and also nabbed over 400 Chinese firkis (swivels with nylon manja would on them). Nevertheless, thousands of birds were injured over a few days. On Makar Sankranti within 48 hours, 65 birds (75% of which were pigeons, 7 kites, 5 owls and 1 seagull) were admitted with manja-related injuries at the Bombay Veterinary College. In Pune a week prior to Makar Sankranti, an Indian grey hornbill was found entangled in kite string on an 80 foot high tree. Its partner was circling around for 3 days only after which it was noticed and rescued. A big hue and cry was made over it – unlike for the hundreds of pigeons who similarly suffer and die.

Awareness and Action


In 2009 Beauty Without Cruelty requested the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests to consider issuing an immediate Notification banning all types of manja. By placing this restriction on the manufacture, sale, purchase, use and possession of manja, an unimaginably high number of birds’ lives will be saved, however it has not materialised.


Meanwhile, Beauty Without Cruelty is informing people what they can do to save innocent birds from unintentional injuries during kite flying and has requested the Government to ban the use of sharp, glass-coated kite-strings or patang manja which kills and maims thousands of birds like pigeons, kites and wild bird species throughout the year.


Only three countries use manja for kite flying. They are India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. However, flying kites was banned in Pakistan because of lethal kite-fights which led to many injuries and deaths due to the use of strings coated not only with glass but also with shards of metal.

The good news is that in December 2016 the National Green Tribunal (NGT) imposed an interim nationwide ban on the use of Chinese, nylon and cotton glass-coated manja for flying kites.

Page last updated on 13/02/17