Through the days when Tamil Nadu saw Jallikattu supporters out on the streets protesting against the Supreme Court’s ruling that banned the sport, the protestors unanimously demanded a ‘Ban on PETA’. Now, circus owners from across the country have come together to safeguard circus industry, which, they claim has been suffering due to unfair treatment meted out to them by animal right groups and NGOs. In January, the supporters of bullock cart race had gathered in Chakan, Pune, to protest against animal organisation PETA and its stand on Jallikattu and bullock cart races.
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Last month, a meeting was held in Chennai that was attended by representatives of nearly 20 circus owners based across the country, including Rambo Circus, Jamuna Circus, Global Circus, Amar Circus, Grand Circus, Gemini Circus, Jumbo Circus and Great Royal Circus, among others. While so far all the circuses were fighting their individual battles, it is the first time that they have come together to form the Indian Cultural and Traditional Organisation for the Circuses (ICTOC), whose registration is in process. In the coming days, the members plan to write a letter to the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) mentioning their demands and concerns. Besides, they also plan to meet the President of India. Another meeting is soon to be held in Nagpur.
Feroz Khan Ilyas, treasurer of the ICTOC and the owner of Great Royal Circus, a 110-year old circus from Maharashtra, says, “There was a time when India had more than 200 circuses. Currently, we have less than 35 circuses. While most of them are struggling to survive, some like ours are almost on the verge of shutting down. We have nothing against government rules and regulations. We are not demanding lifting of ban on wild animals in circuses. All of us have suffered because of the harassment and interference of animal NGOs who make false reports about condition of our animals with the soul aim of confiscating them. We have come together to fight against these unlawful activities of animal NGOs.” The members who attended the meeting rue that instead of animal NGOs, the inspection of circuses should be done by a government-authorised committee, which should consist of representatives of animal husbandry department, a veterinarian and a forest department official, so that biased decisions can be avoided.
Though the circus owners are not looking at lifting of ban on wild animals, they are seeking regularisation of rules related to domestic animals used for performance in circus. Shenil Mottal, whose father worked with various circuses and later founded Grand Circus 30 years ago, said, “On several occasions we have suffered harassment from NGOs, who just picked up our animals one-by-one citing that we were ‘cruel’ to them. In 2001, our chimpanzees were seized by one animal NGO. Though we won the court case later, the NGO imposed several impractical conditions for the upkeep of animals. After sometime, we lost our patience and surrendered our animals. Surprisingly, there are so many rules for circuses but there are no rules for NGOs.”
While there were those who could sustain, other circuses succumbed and shut down like Bharat Circus, Rajkamal Circus, National Circus, Malabar Circus, Komal Circus and Metro Circus, among others. As on date, nearly 10,000 people earn livelihood through circuses across the country. Other than the ban on wild animals and constant scrutiny by NGOs, the owners say they have also been hit hard by the rule that prohibits circuses from employing artistes below 18 years. “In several reality shows on television, artistes as small as 3 to 4 years are seen performing various stunts. If the government can permit that, then why are we being denied permission,” says Mottal, who is an engineering graduate and had been working with IBM for seven years before starting the Global Circus along with his brother. In order to continue running the show, he says, he has been consciously experimenting with themes and performances. In the recent past, he collaborated with theatre artistes to present drama projects that were a combination of circus and theatre.
Every circus owner complains that the confiscated animals are used by animal NGOs to seek donations from overseas. “They use the social media and circulate stories that create a sorry state of the rescued animal,” says Sharly Kaur of 120-year old Jamuna Circus, whose elephant was seized by an NGO. Although the Hyderabad Court gave verdict in her favour, she is yet to get the animal.
Justifying the need of forming ICTOC, Niraj Gadge of Nagpur-based Amar Circus, says it was important to save the dying art form. “Our demand is that animal NGOs like PETA, PFA and Animal Rahat, who work with the main purpose of earning money through donations, should be banned. On the name of ‘animal cruelty’, they are only doing arm-twisting,” he said.