By Maneka Gandhi
The peacock is the Indian National Bird. People and nations make a symbol after great thought. The peacock is unique to India and for centuries it has been revered. That we should allow its trade when trade in all other wild animal and bird parts is forbidden should be strongly condemned. That it has been put into a Wildlife Protection Act and allowed to stay there for 30 years since 1972 is even more reprehensible.
Man’s understanding of nature grows from year to year. Till some years ago it was believed that the shahtoosh shawl was made from the shed hair of a goat. Only now has it been proved that the hair is obtained by killing 8 chiru antelope for one shawl. Likewise when the original Act was made it was believed that the trade in peacock feathers could be allowed because all the feathers were obtained from naturally shed peacock feathers. It is true that the peacock sheds its feathers as all birds do but, like all birds, these feathers are only for one month, in early August till September and that too one at a time.
Also bear in mind that the peacock is a solitary bird during the day. It does not fly as a rule , it lives in a small group of a few birds in the same tree as it never changes its nest. It lives around human settlements. Therefore it is easily accessible.
What bearing does this have on the feather trade?
For one, because it is a solitary bird, it drops its feather in a solitary place. No one who has a shop of feathers is going to send someone looking for the single dropped feather. Secondly, because it cannot fly long distances, or very high, it is easy to catch, and because it roosts in the same branches, it is a very easy target. So the trade has never bothered with the single dropped feather: it has always gone for the bird. A bird so tame that it is easy to have it eating out of your hands.
The peacock is trapped, killed and then the feathers are plucked out and sent in sackloads and truckloads to the shops and trading centres. Poachers simply follow the track that the peacocks use to get water or to roost, shine bright lights on them to blind them and then throw a net over them.
Most poachers say that caching a peacock is easier than catching a hen. If even catching is difficult, mass poisoning takes place of peacocks by luring them for food and then mixing poison with the grain. Everyday there is a report in the papers. While drought in Rajasthan and Gujarat has almost wiped out the peacocks, in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh they are being killed in the thousands every day. Even a place like Morena , named after the peacock , has weekly reports on peacock poisoning. Reports stream in every day: 50 dead in Bubkiya village in Ajmer, 70 dead in Matauli in Madhya Pradesh, 40 killed in Yamunanagar, 15 killed in Ambaji (near the temple).
How can it be proven that the trade does not rely on shed feathers? Quite simply. There is a simple test which the Wildlife Department promised to carry out regularly when they granted permission for the trade – but never did. The shaft of a peacock feather taken from a killed peacock has traces of blood inside it. The naturally shed feather does not. People in the trade immediately cut off the shaft of the feather about 20mm so that no tests can be done. Look at the feathers in the market. Every single one has been cut. Would they have done this if they knew it was a naturally shed feather?
The peacock feather is a useless item for the human being: You cannot eat it, wear it or even dust with it. All you can do is to buy and put it in a vase at home or in a mandir or make a fan with it. 80-90 % of the trade concentrates on foreign tourists. The Department of Foreign Trade banned the export of peacock feathers 2 years ago. (Till then the Ministry of Commerce was licencing 20 lakh feathers a year! Considering that a peacock has less than 100 feathers, how many peacocks would have been killed? ) But thousands of foreign tourists come into India every year and buy suitcases full. Hotel shops carry peacock feathers so do all tourist based curio shops. Shall the national bird be turned into a fan when it is now an endangered species?
The peacock itself is in Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act : severe penalties are possible for anyone caught hunting and trading in it. Has a single person being caught trading in the body? No. Because the feather is allowed to be traded. Do these two provisions in the Act not contradict each other? I am punished for hunting a peacock – but the only reason why I hunt it is because I sell the feathers which are allowed to be sold.
I would like the Government to delete the following provision in Section 44 clause (c):
“Provided further that nothing in this subsection shall apply to the dealers in tail feathers of peacocks and articles made therefrom and the manufacturers of such articles,” and Section 49A(b) should be amended in conformity with that.
Dozens of questions have been asked in Parliament on whether the Government is aware that the Act has serious loopholes that contribute to the killing of the National Bird and whether the government is going to amend the act or whether the government is going to issue a notification imposing a ban on the feather trade. The answer is always a noncommittal “we are looking into the matter.” The Ministry for Environment and Forests has already reached the conclusion – as its internal files show- that the peacock is doomed unless this ban comes, but do you think that this Minister would do anything about it?
Not only are the fans being sold in India in the thousands but they are being smuggled across to Bangladesh where foreign trade in fans is allowed. Bangladesh Exporters such as A.K.Enterprises of Mission Road, Gopibagh, Dacca , openly advertise the export of Indian Peacock feathers.
Remember: the drought in Rajasthan and Gujarat has already destroyed entire populations in those states ( North Gujarat is now completely peacockless). The indiscriminate use of the banned pesticide DDT and other insecticide treated seeds (specially tomatoes) planted carelessly on the ground surface by farmers are killing thousands.
As the old growth of clumps of trees with their bushes go , there are no breeding grounds left as peacocks lay their eggs on the ground. Dogs attack their eggs and the small peafowls, and the tribals and poachers who supply to VIPs kill it for meat … all this and then the trade as well. Give the peacock another 10 years and then, like the vulture, you will never see it again.
The bird with a hundred eyes that represent the stars, the sun, moon, the universe and the vault of heaven. The symbol of compassion, empathy, the incorruptible soul. According to Sufi legend the Original Spirit was created in the shape of a peacock. When it saw itself in the mirror of the Divine Essence, it was so overwhelmed by its beauty that great drops of sweat flew from its body and all other living creatures were formed from these.
The guard of the Greek goddess Hera , the Roman Goddess Juno, the Christian symbol of omniscience, the Babylonian Phoenix, the emblem of Heliopolis, the Chinese symbol of rain and fertility, the representative of the Buddhist Wheel of Life and the Ming dynasty. The bird of Skanda and the killer of earthly attachments, the symbol of Krishna, the bird of immortality….in every religion the peacock is sacred.
This is the bird that the Government and you are allowing to be killed and turned into two things: fans and brooms, and in the process showing the Indian ability to turn the truly magnificent into the completely trivial.
Maneka Gandhi is a parliamentarian and she also leads and animal welfare movement. You may contact her at email@example.com Editor
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