Right opposite to Data Darbar in Bhatti Gate area, a few people with small cages perched on their bicycles are seen. The cages have different types of wild birds including crows, sparrows, parrots, and even doves. Though they appear harmless, these are categorised as wild because they are not kept in homes as domesticated pets. They have been captured using traps.
You can easily tell these birds are under extreme stress for being subjected to confinement that they are not used to. At times they flutter their wings, as if trying to fly out but rebound as just as they hit the netted walls of the narrow cages.
Their owners are on a lookout for potential customers and rush towards anybody they find approaching. “Free the [caged] birds and rid yourself of your worries,” one of the vendors is seen chanting. “They will pray for you and you shall be blessed!”
The words serve the purpose, and one of the persons on the road stops by. After a bit of haggling over the price of freeing some birds, they reach an agreement. The vendor cautiously opens the little door of the cage, sets five sparrows free, and shuts it back prompt. The customer’s eyes follow the birds as they make rounds in the air gleefully. Without a second thought, he extends two notes of hundred rupees towards the vendor, and move ahead.
The vendor, who wants to be identified by his nick Gulloo, says that he could tell the person was troubled, “He had stubble; red, droopy eyes, and was reciting some verses. When I inquired, the customer revealed that his brother was an under-trial prisoner whose bail applications had been rejected. He had come to Data Darbar to pray for his brother’s release.”
Without doubt, freeing captured, wild birds is a noble act. Their incarceration for commercial purposes is prohibited. That is why the vendors doing business at different places in the city are always wary of being caught by any Wildlife department officials. In case they are caught, the officials free all the birds right away and also, often, confiscate the cages.
One thing that the vendors or the customers don’t realise is the captured birds’ trauma, even after they are freed; also, because most often they are not familiar with the environs in which they are released. Due to this reason they are unable to fly and fall prey to predators or get killed after being run over by speeding vehicles on the road.
Moreover, removing wild birds from their natural habitat disturbs the ecological balance and results in environmental issues.
Apart from capturing and releasing wild birds to earn their blessings, their use in black magic is the reason for the worsening situation. In the latter case, wild birds such as owls, woodpeckers (hud hud), doves, vultures, eagles are sometimes even killed so that their body parts can be used to cast a spell or to avoid evil eye. No wonder these birds are in high demand and easily valuable at different spots in the city including different bird markets.
Babar Ali, a spiritual healer who claims to counter black magic with noori ilm (divine knowledge), tells TNS that it’s a lucrative business. “You can even access this in Tollinton Market but the shopkeepers will not talk to you unless you go to them with the reference of someone they know.
“It is also suspected that the practitioners of black magic have formed linkages with them and send people there with reference to find the bird of their choice,” he adds.
As per the details shared by Ali, the eye of an owl is used to make an amulet, while the spell is written by dipping the pen in its blood. “It is said that if an owl’s eye is hidden under the bed or inside your pillow or at any place right above the bed, you will remain restless and unable to sleep.
Likewise, parts of a woodpecker are burnt for use in spells, and the ashes of its heart are used to make kajal (kohl). The declared purpose of this kajal is that you can ‘foresee’ dangers and look beyond human capacity.
According to Ali, the spiritual powers of woodpecker and its conversation with Hazrat Suleman (as explained in the Holy Quran) are cited in this context. Besides, “people use claws of crows in lockets as they think wearing these will help them avoid the evil eye.”
He further says how quite often the black magicians do not have any explanation for using blood, claws or feathers of different birds because this knowledge has reached them through books and scriptures over the centuries. “An overwhelming influence here is that of Hindu mythology where the practice of sacrificing living species at the altar of devis and devtas is quite common.”
The worst part of the story is that despite the threat to these species, the government authorities are not doing the needful, even though Pakistan is signatory to the UN Convention on Biodiversity (1992) that calls for maintaining ecological balance, says Asif Sial, an environmental lawyer based in Lahore.
“Global studies point out that different species have been disappearing at 50-100 times the natural rate which is predicted to rise dramatically,” he says. “An estimated 34,000 plant and 5,200 animal species, including one in eight of the world’s bird species, are facing extinction.”
Sial urges the concerned state departments to take required action and crack down on black magic practitioners for ruining the lives of people as well as the wild species.
The Wildlife department has been tasked with the responsibility and it does have a strong law but unfortunately implementation is the problem, says an official on condition of anonymity. He says they do face shortage of resources and manpower while the rackets involved in illegal trade of wildlife and its derivates are too strong and influential.
The law in place states that “Any wild animal, which is found dead or dying or which has been killed or caught otherwise than in accordance with the provisions of this Act and any meat or trophy thereof shall be the property of the Government.”
Besides, “no person shall as a profession, trade or business, buy, sell or otherwise deal in wild animals, trophies or meat thereof or process or manufacture goods or articles from such trophies or meat, unless he is in possession of a valid license, hereinafter called a dealer’s license, to do so, issued by an officer authorised in this behalf. The word meat in this law stands for the fat, blood, flesh or any eatable part of wild animal, whether fresh or preserved.”