Land of Krishna protests ban on peacock feather trade

Vrindavan, July 4 (IANS) The national bird needs to be protected, but there is a flip side to the proposed ban on the domestic trade of peacock feathers.

Just ask the hundreds of workers who earn their living selling products made from the multi-hued feathers.

In this land of the Hindu god Krishna, always portrayed with a peacock feather on his head, the proposed move of the

Environment and forests ministry to ban domestic trade in the feathers has been met with alarm.

‘Can you think of Sri Krishna-Radha without the moar pankh (peacock feather)? In the south, Lord Murugan is fond of

peacocks. Jain saints use them; cattle owners need them for decorating their animals. For religious purposes and even as decorative pieces, the peacock feathers are always in demand,’ Hari Prasad, who sells peacock feather fans outside a Krishna temple in Vrindavan, told IANS.

In Goverdhan, Mathura, Vrindavan, where Krishna is believed to have been born and brought up, and in the nearby Taj Mahal city of Agra, hundreds of cottage industry workers and owners have been up in arms for the last one week organising protests and submitting memorandums against the ministry’s move.

They met the district magistrate and presented a memorandum addressed to President Pratibha Patil.

‘We have requested her to reject the move,’ Nandlal Bharti of the Akhil Bhartiya Moar Pankh Kutir Udhyog Samiti (All India Peacock Feather Cottage Industry Committee), told IANS.

‘A ban on the trade would leave many people, mostly from underprivileged sections, out of work,’ added Ramesh, who runs a shop selling decorative pieces and items needed for rituals near the famous Dwarkadheesh temple in Mathura.

‘The charge that we kill the birds for feathers is bogus and wrong. How can we ever kill them? They provide us our livelihood,’ argued Lakhan Singh, one of those who stands to lose his earnings.

Agra has India’s biggest wholesale market of peacock feathers.

‘The entire Braj Mandal, parts of Morena district in Madhya Pradesh, adjoining the Dholpur and Bharatpur districts of Rajasthan, and the sprawling 10,000 sq km area of the Taj Trapezium Zone have a high concentration of these birds.

‘After the rains, the peacocks start shedding their feathers that are collected and brought to traders in Agra. In fact feathers are brought here from all over the country for auction during September-October,’ disclosed Bhanwar Singh, president of the Association.

The members say the population of the magnificent national bird, which can’t fly very high or very long but has a long train of colourful feathers that fan out in the rains, has been steadily rising.

But WWF and other environmental groups estimate that the population has gone down by almost 50 percent of what it used to be at the time of independence.

Activists allege that peacocks were being killed at regular intervals for the feathers and also for the meat.

‘Use of pesticides in grains has also been found to be a factor in reducing the peacock population,’ says eco-activist Ravi Singh.

The environment ministry is planning a total ban on the use of the national bird’s feathers. The practice has so far been to allow trading in ‘naturally shed feathers’ but restrict exports of products made from them.

The Wildlife Protection Act 1972 prohibits the killing of peacocks as well as export of tail feathers or articles made from them, but allows domestic trade under the assumption that the feathers are naturally shed, states the ministry. But this could soon end with the ministry proposing to amend the act.

The Wild Life Crime Control Bureau has over the years raided several warehouses in the Agra region and found huge stocks of feathers, giving rise to the suspicion that the birds were being systematically killed.

‘The right course would be to step up patrolling and monitor controls. A total ban is not the right answer,’ said tourism industry leader Rakesh Chauhan in Agra.

‘Hundreds of people make a living selling fans, sticks, all kinds of fancy items from the feathers. They would all stand to lose their livelihood,’ agreed hotelier Sandip Arora.

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at brij.k@ians.in)

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