The deaths of three people as a result of accidents involving so-called Chinese manja in Delhi on August 15 has renewed the focus on the danger posed by the powdered glass-coated line that is used for flying kites. These deaths prompted Delhi to ban such manja, joining a list that includes Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

Glass-coated manja has long been used in the kite fights that are a popular pastime across the subcontinent. But the string that has been traditionally used in such duels – which involve players trying to cut the manja of their rival's kite – has been made with cotton. In recent years, however, manja made with polymers reportedly imported from China has become more widely used.

This kind of line slices through a rival's string much more easily. However, if stretched tautly enough, such line could act like a razor and cut through flesh.

On Independence Day, two children in Delhi looking out of a sunroof had their throats cut by Chinese manja, and died before reaching the hospital. In another case in the Capital, a man fell off his motorbike after his neck got entangled in kite string.

After these incidents, the Delhi government on August 16, banned Chinese manja in the Capital.

Made in India

The line is though to have got its name because the synthetic polymer named polypropylene, which is its main component, was largely imported from China and Taiwan.

But people in the trade insist that Chinese manjha as nothing to do with India's East Asian neighbour.

“What is known as Chinese manjas, are all locally produced..." said Mohit Kartikeyan, head of product development and sales of a Bangalore-based manja manufacturer. "It is more of a marketing gimmick. People go for it assuming that the product is imported."

He said that and this kind of string has a very high tensile strength, posing a threat to people who come into contact with it at a certain amount of force. Besides, the presence of glass particles and metal particles gives the string a high level of conductivity, and could cause electrocution.

Sachin Gupta, vice-president of Hathkargha Laghu Patang Udyog Samiti, the association of handmade kite-sellers in the Capital’s oldest kite market at Old Delhi’s Lal Kuan, said that Chinese manjas are popular because they are sold at half the cost of cotton-thread manja.

Gupta added: “There is nothing Chinese about them. All these manjas are made in the local market. Even the strings are not imported. They are largely procured from manufacturers in Noida, Sonepat and Bangalore.”

States impose bans

While the Gujarat government imposed a ban on Chinese manja in November 2009, it took over five years for other states to follow – Maharashtra (2015), Andhra Pradesh (May 2016) and Karnataka (July 2016). The Delhi government did it on August 16, a day after three lives were claimed by the the thread.

The bans on Chinese manja have been imposed under provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The effectiveness of its implementation across these states, however, still remains a question. Over the years, more than a dozen people and thousands of birds have died or suffered severe injuries caused by Chinese manja.

The Delhi High Court had last week directed the government, municipal corporations and the police to raise awareness about the “fatal threat” from razor-sharp manja, reported the Indian Express. The court mentioned 15 manja-related deaths over the last two years of deaths in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

The judgement was issued on a public interest litigation filed by a Delhi resident in May, seeking a ban on the use of Chinese manja in the city.

But Kartikeya, the manja manufacturer, said that a nation-wide ban would not be effective because the government had not even defined what exactly Chinese manja is. "Standards should be set, keeping safety in view, for manja manufacturers before any such ban is imposed," he said. "As far as casualties are concerned, they can also result from cotton threads – which the state governments have allowed – which come with a varied range of tensile strength.”

Across the border

India isn't the only country battling to control manja-related deaths. In 2007, the administration in Lahore imposed a temporary ban on kite flying around the time of Basant – the festival that marks the start of spring – citing safety reasons, including potential casualties caused by glass-coated polymer-based manjas. However, the word Chinese manja apparently failed to make its way across the border.

After that, kite flying was banned across the entire Punjab province of Pakistan, ostensibly because of the high number of accidental deaths caused by the use of sharp thread. Reports in Dawn in February this year said that 18 boys in Rawalpindi district had been arrested for kite flying.