Badminton shuttlecocks are made from plucked feathers of live ducks and geese, causing much pain to animals

How many of us examine the things we use to see which ones of them cause death? A lot of sports do. For example, badminton which uses shuttlecocks made of feathers plucked from live ducks or geese.

Badminton originated in India. The first rules of the game were written in Poona by the British in 1873. English Army officers introduced it in England at a party given in 1873 by the Duke of Beaufort. The duke's country estate was called Badminton, so everyone started talking about the "new game in Badminton," resulting in the sport's name.

Badminton became popular very quickly and the Badminton Association was founded in Great Britain in 1893. The world governing body is the International Badminton Federation, founded in 1934, which now has over 100 affiliated member nations. The nations that take it most seriously are China, Korea and India.

The shuttlecock used like a ball consists of a cork head (made from the bark of the cork tree) a skirt of overlapping 16 feathers, threads and glue. In China, goose feathers are used. In India, white duck. Only six feathers in each wing can be used to make a shuttlecock. The feathers are plucked from live geese – far more than will actually be used. Each feather plucking causes unbearable pain to the bird – much more than if you had your hair pulled out in clumps.

 Badminton shuttlecocks are made from plucked feathers of live ducks and geese, causing much pain to animals

Representational image. Getty Images

The bird is caught by handlers and held down, its wings pulled open and dozens of feathers pulled out from its wings. It bleeds horribly. Each feather shaft is full of blood. Technicians then identify the feathers they need. They choose the whiter feathers and those must weigh between 1.7 gramme to 2.1 gramme or else they will be discarded. After this, the feathers are measured for its angle. This step is vital to the overall shuttlecock because if a single feather is off just slightly, the shuttle would wobble during flight. Thousands of feathers are thrown away in the garbage.

The goose or duck are then sorted into left-wing or right-wing piles. Only six or seven feathers from each wing can be used for shuttlecocks. Further, as feathers from left and right wings differ, a shuttle can have only feathers from one side of the goose. Makers can't mix left-wing and right-wing feathers because of their contrasting curvature and left-wing feathers are said to produce the best results. Shuttlecocks lose their shape easily and up to three dozen can be used in one professional game (the feathers of 54 geese!).

Most of the shuttlecocks in India are made in Uluberia, Howrah, West Bengal. A few dozen shuttlecock units have also started up in Punjab. However, clubs are switching to Chinese and Japanese shuttlecocks which use goose feathers and are machine cut. Both these nations’ records on animal welfare are well known.

West Bengal's shuttlecock industry produces 36,000 badminton birdies each day. But where do these factories find the 5,70,000 feathers a day needed to make their products? The feathers used are from white-duck wings regularly smuggled from Bangladesh. There are 80 small scale factories and several more come up every year. Not one pays tax, they buy the feathers from Bangladesh and bring them in clandestinely through the long open border.

I have often said that people who are mean or insensitive to animals are equally so with children. Witness the families of butchers where four year olds are made to work in the slaughterhouses by their parents. You will see the same thing in Uluberia, West Bengal, the home of the shuttlecock industry and a place that has been indicted all over the world for its terrible misuse of children.

One fifth of the children in Rajapur, Uluberia, Howrah, are employed to prepare shuttlecocks. Most of them are under 10 years old. They are employed to cut the feathers. The best paid get Rs 30 for cutting every thousand feathers and it takes about 12-14 hours of intense concentration, for each feather has to be exactly right or it will be discarded, to cut them with the 1/2 inch sharp scissors. Most of the children cut themselves regularly but then they lose their daily wages. They start the day at 7 am. There is a lunch-break for an hour and they work till 8 pm. It requires 26 phases to prepare a complete shuttlecock. Children are employed at every phase of the process. The government pays no attention because “shuttlecock making is not hazardous to children’s health”.

Some people will say that the goose or duck is reared for killing for meat so if feathers are pulled out what difference does it make. Firstly, I am going to die one day, so is it ok is someone breaks my limbs and pulls out my hair first. Secondly goose meat or duck meat is not a big market (how many people do you know who have eaten geese anywhere in the world?) whereas feathers are. If the geese were being killed to be eaten (and their feathers taken after), then there must be a huge market for geese meat.

The geese of China and the ducks of Bangladesh live and die for this sport. This is what their trade guide says:

“Bangladesh could be a major potential supplier of bird feather. Historically our village dwellers are raising ducks and pigeon in their homes. Recently ducks are being raised commercially for their feathers. Tender feathers should be removed carefully from the bird bodies to ensure that blood and rust is not mixed with them. Then these feathers should be kept in sunlight for two or three days. After that it should be cooled for a while and packed in poly bag into 1 kilogramme unit. Feathers should be saved from water and rust.”

In fact, here is an editorial so that you can see what Bangladesh considers important. It makes really grisly reading:

“Entrepreneurs in Bangladesh are no doubt doing their best to diversify the country’s export base, and in some non-traditional items, they have been gaining success. A report quoting Export Promotion Bureau officials shows that in the first quarter this fiscal, non-traditional export figures rose to 4.26 million dollars compared to 2.61 million dollars July to September. 2001. The 63 percent increase registered in this category has been helped by inclusion of some new non-traditional items in the export basket. Other non-traditional export items making a mark this year with increased foreign demands include tortoise, shark’s fin, salted fish, dry-fish, crabs and duck feather. In three months of the current fiscal year, the export volume of tortoise was worth 0.18 million dollars, shark fin worth 0.85 million dollars, salted fish worth 0.93 million dollars, dry fish worth 0.28 million dollars, crab worth 0.33 million dollars and duck feathers worth 0.37 million dollars.”

Badminton, when it started, was known as 'hit and scream'. So true. For every hit you make with the racquet, a bird screams in utter agony. Do you want to play badminton just as an evening sport? Take nylon shuttles.

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Updated Date: Aug 23, 2017 17:39:21 IST