Snake Charmers

snake-charmersWhen the Union Government banned snake charmers, it was good news but I was also surprised that the Government was reinventing the wheel. Snake capture, use and sale was banned in 1972 by the Wildlife Protection Act. Why the police do not pick up every wandering snake dealer is because most of the lower level policemen do not know the law still. Predictably some villages that are still infested with snake poachers like Sakalpur in Agra and many in Mewat, Haryana called a protest meeting to agitate against the banning of this practice. In India we still do not take wildlife protection seriously. Imagine a meeting being called by thugs ( who also lived in the same villages around Agra) in order to protest the ban on thuggee or highway robbery and murder. What would have happened ? The police would have waited for the criminals to get together and then swooped down on them. That is what should have been done at this meeting, but alas was not. The next thing that can be expected is for the poachers taking tiger and panther skins to Tibet to hold a similar union meeting and protest that the Tibetans will go unclad if this poaching is stopped.
Anyway the meeting held by these poachers insisted that their ilk never touched endangered species and always released the captured snakes back into the forest during their yearly breeding season.
As Chairperson of a network of thousands of people who track and arrest animal criminals regularly, I know both things to be a complete lie. We have caught hundreds of King cobras and other species that are seriously endangered in Delhi alone. One of ourt hauls was 27 cobras being brought into the city by a family of madaris from Rajasthan that were going to sell them to the city snake entertainers. All of them were in one sack and all of them were injured. Half of them died in a few days. The case was been registered but the family predictably disappeared. No doubt they will fetch up again in another part of the city.
The reason why the snake is endangered is because of these snake users. Imagine if there are even just 5000 of them. That is 5000 cobras ( which is usually the snake they go after because of its hood) being killed every six weeks for the last so many years.
There is no doubt that they are killed. Not a single snake has ever been released back into the forest to breed. Most of the madaris today do not capture the snakes themselves and would not know how to do so. They rely on a supply chain of poachers to get them their stock. So they would not even know where the snakes came from. Secondly , since the cobra has poison in their fangs, the poachers first knocks off the fangs by using a hammer. Fangs are canine teeth. Imagine your canines being hit and broken by a hammer. In the process, many snakes have their jaws broken. The pain is severe and the infection from the breaking spreads to the entire jaw, the way it would in a human.
Once the fangs are out, the snake cannot eat. The main purpose of fangs is not to bite people. It is to digest food. The poison is an enzyme that breaks down the food so that the snake’s body can absorb it. No fangs , no absorption. Even if the snake were to eat, which it cannot because its jaw is infected or broken, the food will pass through its body without breaking down and causing constipation and disease. Were it even to be released back into the forest during its breeding season as the poachers claim, it would die as it cannot eat, it cannot mate and the jungle in which it is released is alien to it.
The snake can go a few weeks without eating. It gets thinner and weaker. Add to that, the inhuman cruelty of wrapping it round and round and imprisoning it in a flat wicker basket whose loose fibres prick the snake all the time. The snake is a long sliding animal. It is certainly not used to being forcibly curled up for 20 hours a day. Put yourself in its position and imagine if that happened to you. Its skin is soft and sensitive. It is easily pierced. In fact if you pick up a snake and have long nails you could easily give it a gash that it will die from. Not only do the snake poachers have long, dirty, unkempt nails and hard callouses on their hands, but the basket itself is very dangerous to the skin of the snake.
No snake lasts for longer than a month. Then it dies from starvation, bad handling, broken jaws, jaw infection, rib breaking from the forced curling, tetanus. It will never see its home in the forest again. Since it has been bought for Rs 500 and it has earned the madari many thousand rupees, there is enough money to buy another snake.
The poachers have demanded that the Government set up a snake park in which all of them can be employed. This is like setting up a display park for retired pickpockets so that they can show their skills to the public. In a park all that will happen is that these men will be allowed to go and get more snakes, do the same to them and be paid by the Government to show tourists the same thing except now, instead of walking the streets to find their audience , they can relax, get monthly salaries and Government houses and wait for their audience to come to them. The same number of snakes will be killed in the same number of ways. If they are so frightened about what they will do next , I suggest that all their worries be taken away and they can be housed as guests of the Government in Tihar orAgra jail and get paid to make carpets.
One writer from Agra has lamented that the ‘been’ or Indian flute will disappear. What nonsense. The been can be taught as a musical instrument to anyone who cares to learn it. It isn’t as if the instrument is umbilically tied to the animal , any more than the sitar is tied to the Goddess Saraswati.
The same writer says that the madaris can be useful to the Government because they can supply venom to the snake venom institutes by milking the snakes. Unfortunately this is also untrue as if they knew how to milk the snake’s fangs they would not have been breaking them with hammers. I must have caught several thousand by now, all of which had their jaws broken.
The word snake charmers is responsible for this pernicious trade having carried on for so long. No one can charm a snake. They are deaf and can hardly see. They sway only because they can see the outlines of a stick, which is the flute, coming threateningly towards them, and they want to avoid being hit. These wretched people who trap and bag the snakes should be called by their real name  snake users or poachers. Killers of Sesha, the Nagdevata, most intimate of Vishnu.


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