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India
Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Jain hospital exclusively for birds

By D.N.Jha

THE JAINS, who constitute hardly one per cent of the country's population, continue to adhere to the tenets of their religion. The bird hospital in Chandini Chowk is just one example of the lofty principles that they are devoted to. It also reflects their belief in freedom of all living beings, no matter how small or insignificant they are.


The Jain Bird Hospital


A sick parrot in the hospital


Sick pigeons in the hospital

Next to Chandni Chowk, right across the Red Fort, is Digambar Jain temple. In the same complex is a unique and interesting hospital situated, where only birds are admitted.

Run by legendary Aggarwal Digambar Jain panchayat, Delhi, the hospital was founded in 1956 on the Jain principle of aversion to killing. The hospital has separate wards in form of cages for different species of birds like sparrows, parrots, domestic fowls and pigeons. It also has a research laboratory and even an intensive care unit for its serious patients.

The people, especially the Jain merchants of the area, bring the birds that are usually wounded by ceiling fans or by other means for treatments. The hospital admits a maximum of 60 injured birds per day. The birds are then treated, bathed and are given nutritious diet so that it recover soon. It is eventually released, especially on Saturdays, after it is declared fit and healthy.

The interesting thing about the hospital is that they reluctantly and in a very special case, treat the non-vegetarian birds. Visitors can also see flocks of birds on the roof of the hospital. Though most of the birds are those that have been treated here, but who knows there are some visitors too for its respective patients!

Since it is a charitable hospital, visitors are expected to donate some money.

Transported in plastic bags or clasped between hands, 30 to 40 birds arrive in a day. In summers, the birds are often dehydrated; in winters, it suffers from pneumonia. Whether wounded by a passing auto-rickshaw or a whirling ceiling fan, the injured fowls arrive at the Charity Birds Hospital inside the Digambara Jain Temple compound, seeking a remedy for everything from pigeon pox to the common cold. One thing is for sure that this is the only hospital of its kind: The patients never admit themselves.

Opposite the historic Red Fort and situated amidst the noise and chaos of Chandni Chowk, the three-storey hospital, founded in 1956, treats nearly 30,000 birds every year. The birds are first held in the intensive care unit and are eventually transferred to the general wards, where it regain its wings and eventually fly off.

Fed, a vegetarian diet of bread and cheese, treatments are free of cost and funded by Jain donations. The hospital separates its vegetarian patients from its non-vegetarian counterparts. Carnivorous predators such as eagles, hawks and falcons are housed exclusively on the first floor. Every Saturday, a section of the roof is opened and the recovered birds fly away. The hospital follows a central tenet of Jainism -- a commitment towards enabling the freedom of all living beings, no matter how small or insignificant it is. And once the birds are admitted, those are never returned to its owners for fear of likely confinement.

"People bring the birds here, Jain or not," explained veterinarian Dr Vijay Kumar, who has worked at the hospital for nine years, who is not a Jain himself, quickly mentioned that he is a vegetarian. One of India's smallest religious communities that comprises approximately one per cent of India's one billion people, Jains are the first and foremost vegetarians.

"Just like us, a pigeon will never eat another animal's meat. Even if it is very hungry," said manager, Kamal Kishore Jain, as he describes the folk-art mural in the hospital's second-floor entrance. It shows a scene from a famous Jain and Buddhist tale: A king, whose hand and foot have been cut off, is pictured next to a scale that balances his bleeding foot and hand on one side and a bird on the other. The mural reads: "Brave and merciful king put pieces of his own flesh and finally, his whole life in exchange to save a pigeon from becoming the prey of a hawk."

Walking barefoot through the bird hospital premises, two words immediately came to mind, 'bird flu'. Dr Kumar assured, "Since the bird flu, we have taken extra precautions and care with migratory birds."

Whenever you enter the Chandni Chowk area, you cannot miss seeing the charity bird's hospital located within the precincts of a temple. Timings: Open: 8 am to 8 pm.

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