Kite Flying is an age old tradition in many parts of India like Gujarat and in countries like Afghanistan and the United States. Being embedded in our culture for such a long time, the practice is becoming gradually unpopular with time and is on the verge of fading away. Jammu City has been a witness to this declining popularity of the Kite Flying tradition in the past few years.
In Jammu two festivals Raksha Bandhan & Janamashtami have always been celebrated with flying kites and are known for Kite Flying but with the advancing years the trend has become a passé. In the past ten years the Kite manufacturing business has fallen by an average of 60% in Jammu and now the makers are looking for alternate sources of livelihood. There are so many factors that have counted in making kite flying a moribund tradition. Technology and electronic gadgets creeping into our lives in the past decades have resulted in the fast decline of the trade. Moreover, there are few open spaces left for flying kites. Kite makers like poets once had their patrons; now there are none. “A young boy would prefer to spend an hour in an air conditioned internet cafe instead of burning himself under the Sun” says Sanatan Sharma, who has a seasonal Kite manufacturing business and is in the trade for the last more than 20 years. The government has imposed duty in the form of VAT on raw material to add to the woes of the kite makers instead of encouraging this fast declining business. “Earlier kite paper and bamboo sticks used to be tax free. Then a Value Added Tax at the rate of 4% was levied which has been now increased to 8% whereas there is no such tax on these raw items in the rest of India” adds Sanatan.
Till the last 25 years the business was considered to be profitable which prompted the present generation of kite makers in Jammu to take it up for a living. But it in the last ten years the scene has changed drastically with a steep decline. In Pacca Danga alone there are more than 30 kite makers within a radius of 100 meters who are manufacturing kites and strings on seasonal basis as the demand is only for a short period of fifteen days from Raksha Bandhan to Janamashtmi. The season of making kites starts by the end of May and lasts till August by hiring skilled labour. The labourers migrate from Punjab for three months and at an average a labourer earns Rs.200/- per day after working for more than 10 hours a day. There has been an effort on the part of the Government to protect the rights of the migratory workers like these working in the unorganized sector.
Rahul Baba, a Kite Maker from Kathua has an extended season of kite manufacturing. “After making kites for three months in Jammu where I have rented three shops this season I shifted my business to my home town for the next three months where the season begins in September every year.” says Rahul. Other kite makers who claim to have invested over Rs.10 Lakh in the business this season are hopeful of earning a profit of 1.5 to 2 Lakh from the wholesale business if it ends well. These kite makers leave a sigh of relief because of the scant rainfall this year. “If it rains heavily during the next fifteen days it would be a set back to our business and we will have to dump all the manufactured material,” says Sonu who has invested 2 lakh in the business. The young generation of kids is not interested in flying kites as either it is obsessed with technology or overburdened with studies. But still there are a few for whom kite flying is a pleasure over video games and internet. “Instead of watching only TV for 3 hours I divide my time to fly kite for two hours and spend rest one hour watching TV,” says 11 year old Mayank Singh. Gourav is an engineering student in Himachal Pradesh who has come to Jammu; his home town for a holiday this season. “I come every year to fly kites particularly on the festivals like Raksha Bandhan. It is like a passion”, he says. The tragedy with India is that even sports have become a part of popular politics and are promoted on the basis of popular demand. There is no place for a traditional sport like kite flying in the age where everything sells like a commodity and is governed by the market forces of demand and supply. It is a red signal indicating our detachment from the cultural roots that we have imbibed over the years. The tradition cannot be left alone on its fate. It surely deserves something more than that.