Last year, Sunish Subramanium of the Plant and Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), Mumbai, got a call about an injured bird on a building terrace two days after Makar Sankranti. The bird was entangled in a kite string coated with maanja (powdered glass).
“The bird was trapped there for two days without water or food. It couldn’t fly as its legs were entangled in the thread,” said Subramanium, who rescued it. Fortunately, apart from being dehydrated, it was not severely injured and recovered soon after. But not all such birds are as lucky.
Every year, hundreds of birds are injured during Makar Sankranti — this year, the festival falls on January 14 — when the strings, coated with crushed glass, cuts through their wings, legs and necks. Most of them die. “The maanja cuts into the muscles wings or legs, causing grievous injury. It gets worse as the entangled birds try to escape; the thread only cuts deeper,” said Dr Guruprasad Mahadik, of In Defence of Animals, a non-governmental organisation (NGO).
It is to prevent incidents like these that People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) approached the additional municipal commissioner, which resulted in the police banning the use of maanja during the kite-flying festival. However, PETA alleged that maanja makers have approached the government to get the ban revoked. The NGO has now prepared a report on how harmful maanja is to present to Home Minister R.R. Patil. “Maanja is a thread that has crushed glass on it. We are not against the thread makers, just the crushed glass,” said Dharmesh Solanki, PETA’s manager for campaigns and operations.
Other animal welfare NGOs are not taking any chances either. As in the last few years, this year too Nilesh Bhanage is campaigning against the use of maanja and the results, he said, were great. “Last year, we had no distress calls. We used to get calls about injured birds till about two years back. In 2007, we had 12 cases, but now awareness has increased,” he said.
Bhanage, the founder of PAWS (Thane), and his volunteers have put up posters in Dombivli, Thane, Kalyan and Ulhasnagar discouraging the use of maanja. “We have also circulated the numbers of rescue groups and fire departments as they help in rescuing birds from places difficult to reach,” said Bhanage.