The politics of kites

Spread across four continents, black kites are one of the commonest birds of prey in the world. Unlike other medium-sized raptors, they have resorted to scavenging in order to survive. They can be seen hovering over urban settlements across India, looking for food and shelter.

These majestic birds were also classified as Pariah Kites. But it isn’t an affectionate nickname. It’s just proof that we – as a nation – don’t just allow caste discrimination, we celebrate it

Black Kite, Vedanthangal

The word “pariah” stems from the caste system in India. It denotes “an outcast” or an “untouchable”.  Its origin can be traced back to India during early 1600s when it was used to describe festival drummers (paraiyars).  By genetic inheritance, these musicians belonged to subaltern communities. “Pariahs” were later re-branded as “Harijans”, and still subject to social, civil and economic oppression.

In 1955, through Article 17 of the Indian constitution, untouchability was abolished. But of course, it still exists. The burden of proof continues to remain with the accused. And oppression, like corruption, is intricately-woven into the fabric of our society. It will never go away.

What’s worse is that we decided to name a raptor based on this contemptuous disregard we have for one another. We have dragged in, unnecessarily, a feathered friend to an unfair fight.

It is with similar perverseness that the Red-Backed Sea Eagle, associated with Vishnu – a Hindu God, is referred to as the Brahminy Kite. The word “Brahmin” is used to describe a person who belongs to the highest (priestly) caste in south India.

Amrit, a blogger from Hyderabad, has written on other such birding nomenclatures – The All-Encompassing Nature of Caste

Recently I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a Black Kite recently near my house. It was one of the very few times I had seen her perched upon a branch.

Even though she seemed troubled  by the passing traffic and boisterous crows, she exuded the sort of grace that the laws of physics couldn’t contain. So gorgeous was her dark brown plumage, and so piercing yet warm – her eyes that a bit of sadness engulfed me.

Watching black kites haunt the evening skies is akin to reading My Grandmother’s House – a poem by Kamala Das – by a brook. It first jabs the soul across the cheek in an affectionate way before uppercutting its way into the brain. As they circle in unison – with the sun fading away, the heart peeks out, whistling a tune,  to see what the fuss is all about. 

Sorry, dear birdie, apparently it does matter to us whether you are black or white.

You soar, over
the clouds, as we sink,
gazing at the stars. 

(Photographs: Chennai)

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21 comments

  1. Hi Christy! You got some great shots of the kite. That whole subject of caste leaves me scratching my head. Of course, I don’t see how we (humans) think of ourselves as better or somehow more deserving than any other species, just because our frontal cortex is bigger (and we have thumbs). I’m sure the kite is wondering why we picked all our feathers off.

    Nice to see you are getting to do some birding, weather notwithstanding. Stay dry, my friend. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Shannonroo, she is a beau, isn’t she! I do not consider myself above casteism either. The fact that I have been alright with the social dynamics behind the household help system in my own community is testament to that. Oh we, earthlings, aren’t we just preciously destructive?

      “Some” is the operative word, Shannon. The rains have kept them away from my life most of the time. Can’t wait for when it stops, for then winter migrants would pour from the skies!

      Like

  2. unfortunate that you are cornered into the position of thinking the caste system will never change. but though it may be more prominent in india, it is a ubiquitous problem, just that developed countries seem to hide it better than countries where the social problem of rank in society hasn’t infiltrated as deep into the mind set of the masses. for example, take england, though a person living on a council estate is essentially of the lower caste, they would never see themselves as beneath a rich (or as they’d say, “posh” person, probably with a swear word following “posh”), which gives them pride of place & even power. if only it was used to some benefit other than pride. .

    great article. linking our social problems to nomenclatures was a brilliant observation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ubiquitous indeed, kind sir. I m just unsure if the public treats equal opportunity with as much disdain as they do here. Perhaps those with (not in) power should realise that there are opportunities to capitalise upon to bring about change.

      Thanks for reading, Daniel!

      Like

    1. Doc, I believe that India’s “unity in diversity” shtick is a misnomer. The British went ahead and united the country through the railroad system in order to fuel their invasion tactics, not bring forth interstate harmony. Maybe our attempts to unite, by law, is fueling these wretched discriminatory systems in place. I just don’t know anymore!

      Liked by 1 person

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