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Imagining the post-exploitation circus

It is the paucity of ideas, not a ban on animals, that poses a risk to the future of circuses

By The Editorial Board

  • Published 5.12.18, 9:14 AM
  • Updated 5.12.18, 9:14 AM
‘Wild’ animals such as the big cats and elephants had already been banned from circuses
‘Wild’ animals such as the big cats and elephants had already been banned from circuses (Shutterstock)

The proposal by the Union ministry of environment and forests to ban the use of animals for the purpose of performance or exhibition in circuses or mobile entertainment facilities is a welcome intervention. ‘Wild’ animals such as the big cats and elephants had already been banned from circuses. The latest notification shall set free other animals like dogs and horses. Animal performances in circuses originated in times when there was little in the way of family entertainment and exposure to animals was limited to such captive environments. This inexpensive pleasure, that certainly came at a cost to the animals, will now become a thing of the past. The question now should be what to do with the animals once they are decommissioned. Having spent their lifetimes in captivity in confined spaces, these animals are not equipped to survive in their natural environment. In order to rehabilitate such animals, countries like the United States of America have come up with special conservation centres that act as half-way houses for them. Yet, the poor condition of over-crowded and understaffed animal shelters in India is no secret. Moreover, the natural habitats of animals like the forests are dwindling owing to an inept and indifferent government and bureaucracy. This apathy and blindness — not too different from the cruel treatment meted out to animals by circuses — also need to be remedied.

Further, what about the thousands of people who will lose their livelihoods if the ban on animal performances actually rings the death knell for circuses? Reimagining the circus may be the way forward. Circuses have always been a showcase for the agility and derring-do of humans — from the athletics of trapeze artists to the thrill of motorcyclists buzzing around inside a globe. That the art of circus performers can be lucrative has been proved by the success of travelling shows with narrative-based human performances like the Cirque du Soleil. But here, too, rules need to be put in place to stop the exploitation of artists who risk their lives with each performance. It is the paucity of ideas, not a ban on animals that poses a risk to the future of the circus.

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