Why do we fly kites on Independence Day, and how can it be done safely?

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Kite-flying is an interesting and important tradition followed on the occasion of Independence Day in India, which is celebrated on August 15. On this day in 1947, the first Prime Minister of Independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, had delivered a speech saying, “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.”

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He had also hoisted the Indian tricolour for the first time at the Lahori Gate of Delhi’s Red Fort, and since then, the tradition has been followed by all prime ministers. As such, people make it a point to hoist the flag at home, in parks, schools, offices and communities.

Besides the national flag, you must have noticed hawkers selling tricolour kites in the days leading up to Independence Day. But, have you ever wondered why people fly kites in the first place?

It would interest you to know that while kite flying is a happy tradition today, years ago during British rule, it was a form of protest. It goes back to the time of the Simon Commission — or the Indian Statutory Commission — which was marked by the arrival of John Simon, who was met with push-backs and protests by Indian freedom fighters in 1928.

The commission was essentially meant to study and report on India’s constitutional progress and Indians opposed it. People used black flags and kites as a form of protest. Many wrote ‘Simon Go Back’ on the flags and kites and released them.

Over the years, kites became an expression of freedom, a means to resist colonial rule. As such, today, people express their gratitude and celebrate their freedom and patriotism by flying kites, which are mostly seen hovering over rooftops and terraces.

Children fly tricolour kites in Lucknow ahead of the 75th Independence Day. (Express photo by Vishal Srivastava)

But, in the recent past, there have been many accidents caused due to kite flying, and also harm to animals and birds — all of which are avoidable, and one simply needs to exercise caution while participating in the activity.

Earlier this month, the Tata Power-DDL — a leading utility supplying electricity in North Delhi — had appealed to Delhiites to not fly kites near electrical installations and overhead power lines ahead of the festival season.

In a press release, it noted that the string of the kite, called the ‘manjha’ often comes in contact and gets entangled with an overhead live wire. If the manjha is a metal-coated one, it can prove to be dangerous to not only to the person flying the kite, but also others, and it may also disrupt electricity supply of an area.

It noted in its advisory the following important points:

* Do not fly kites near electrical installations and overhead power lines.
* Do not fetch or touch the kite or string entangled in electrical lines/network.
* Do not fly kites close to roads or near moving traffic.
* Do not use a metal coated string (manjha) as it can lead to tripping or even electrocution.
* Use only cotton threads or any natural fibre that is free from metallic or glass components.

Indian Express previously reported that this year, at least three motorcyclists died after the manjha either slit their throats while riding, or got entangled in the wheel of the bike. One man was severely injured when the kite string caused cuts to his neck; he was saved by a passerby who took him to a hospital.

It is important to stay away from the Chinese manjha, which is a glass-coated synthetic string used to fly kites; it is made of monofilament fishing lines. The monofilament strings are said to be deadly because they are hard to break. They are made by melting and mixing polymers, and after the strings are formed, they are then coated with glass. Stretched tight, monofilament strings have the ability to injure both humans and animals.

It is, therefore, important to be considerate while taking part in kite flying activities. Make sure there are no birds nearby and keep the strings away from stray animals, too. In case of an injury to a bird or an animal, call a vet immediately, or take them to a nearby animal hospital.

As mentioned earlier, opt for cotton threads or any natural fibre for strings.

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