For many, pigeons symbolise peace and harmony. But not in Pune, where pigeon trade — a growing business — is associated with thefts, fights, extortions, brutal attacks, and even murder.
Last week, a 17-year-old college student from Nigdi was killed by two persons over sale of pigeons. In September last year, a 30-year-old pigeon keeper from Talegaon, Ganesh Khandagale, was killed when he was trying to stop two men from stealing his birds.
With an estimated 1,000-1,500 people rearing pigeons in the city, the variety of birds ranges from the domestic species to imported pigeons, priced at Rs 10,000-50,000 each.
“These crimes are the dark side of this activity. There have been fights, attacks and even murders in the past… Every Wednesday and Sunday, these people buy and sell pigeons on the Mutha riverbank in Shivaji Nagar area, which is known for such disputes,” said Raja Purohit, a city-based wildlife photographer.
The thefts take place when pigeon keepers release the birds from their coops in the mornings and evenings. If pigeons belonging to another person land in their area, they simply keep them.
“Till some years back, this was just limited to what we call ‘catch-and-keep’ activity. But now, many people with criminal backgrounds are involved because of the money. They not only catch the pigeons, but also break into coops and steal the birds. These break-ins are now a regular affair,” said Abhijit Bhokre, a pigeon keeper from Budhwar Peth area.
“Last September, 12 coops belonging to people along the Mutha riverbank were broken into and hundreds of pigeons were stolen in one night. These incidents are not reported to the police, as nobody can prove which pigeons belong to them. Police also do not have any provisions under which they can register pigeon theft,” he said.
“If the original owner of a pigeon has to buy back his stolen bird, he is asked to pay much more than the original price. These cases always lead to disputes. It is also about ego — who keeps the costlier or rarer varieties of pigeons and who takes revenge. We know of cases when pigeons stolen from Pune were sold in places like Satara, Wai, Bhor and even Aurangabad. The pigeons were identified by the identification rings which the thieves had not removed,” said Jawan Basundiwale, another pigeon keeper.
When contacted, a senior police inspector said, “Crime in pigeon trade is a known phenomenon, but it has started taking a violent turn of late. We register cases whenever there are attacks, but the theft of pigeons is a tricky issue. While a case of theft can be registered, owners can’t prove that the birds originally belonged to them.”
According to Bhokre, the hobby dates back to at least two centuries. While many people keep pigeons as a hobby, there are some who trade in the birds.
“The hobby is spread across people belonging to all classes — their occupations may range from courier delivery boy to a hotel owner,” said Basundiwale.