Flying high: Gamers pump up pigeons with opium-laced water to keep them in the air for hours, prompting an outcry from animal rights activists


Pigeons and doves used in kabutarbazi, a popular sport, are being fed opium in water and injected medicines, claim PETA activists.

Causing pain or death to birds is punishable under the Prevention of Animal Cruelty (PCA) Act.

In the land of ‘Udta Punjab,’ not just humans, but animals are also being given drugs, it seems!

Pigeons and doves used in kabutarbazi — a popular sport in the State’s rural parts — are being fed opium in water and injected medicines to keep them flying for hours, say animal rights activists.

While the game involving birds was traditionally developed in the Mughal era as a benign pastime, now illegal gambling is done over it with big money at stake.

Causing pain or death to birds is punishable under the Prevention of Animal Cruelty (PCA) Act and IPC Section 429, besides betting comes under the Public Gambling Act, 1867.

It specifically prohibits usage of ‘birds or animals’ in Section 13.

‘But who is able to monitor it?’ asks Abhinav Srihan of NGO, Fauna Police.

‘Several thousand rupees are put on bet, and obviously, the kabutarbaz (pigeon herder) will do anything to win.

The harm caused to the pigeon through afeem (opium), or by the stress of staying air-borne for hours, is of least concern,’ he adds.

A quick scan of social media sites such as Facebook shows various pigeon-sporting clubs existing in places like Moga, Ludhiana, etc.

Seasonal and annual championships are held with huge prize money and gifts like motorbikes and refrigerator.

Duly, posters are put up for such competitions.

An activist, who works in Punjab against these games, explained: ‘There are three types of kabutarbazi held. One is where two or more parties make their trained pigeons fly.

‘The bird that stays longest in the sky and does not touch the ground, win the game.’

This is where use of drugs comes to play, he added.

‘The second is where pigeons have to reach a destination; the declared the victor.

‘And the third is where the herd of pigeons belonging to one owner has to gherao the herd of another and bring it to his master,’ he explained.

Abhinav said: ‘We are clearly not against all kinds of pigeon sports. It has also helped communities, over decades, preserve native pigeon species such as Kalsera, Lalsera, Lal Chhapka, Kala Chhapka, Jeera, Hara, Neelam and Kathwa.

‘In fact, sometimes the owners take better care of the pigeons than the government- owned shelter homes.

‘It is gambling and the use of drugs that we strictly abhor and object to. These must be controlled by the enforcement agencies.’

Nikunj Sharma, Spokesperson, PETA, told Mail Today: ‘Earlier, the owners used to slap a rubber whip on the walls, which made a cracker-like noise, and scared the pigeons away from coming and resting on the terrace during the competition.’

The pigeons are trained not to sit anywhere lest they become the property of other herders, he pointed out.

‘It’s likely that kabutarbaz are now using drugs. Pouches of afeem (opium) and other drugs anyway come so cheap in parts of Punjab these days,’ he said.

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