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
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.