Humanising entertainment

Banning Animals In Circus

By Dr S. Saraswathi
(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)

The Centre’s draft proposal to ban the use of all animals in any performance, or exhibition at any circus or mobile entertainment programmes will directly hit circuses that depend on the performance of animals for getting audience. After removal of tigers and lions from circus performers list nearly 20 years ago, the proposed rules, if approved, will remove horses, hippos, elephants, and even dogs from the circus campuses.
Circus is defined in the rules as a “large public entertainment, typically presented in one or more large tents or in an outdoor or indoor arena, featuring exhibitions of pageantry, feats of skill, performing animals, etc.” Circus shows are all about acrobats, buffoons, and stunt players, along with animals trained to behave as told. In most scenes, animals are the heroes.
The rules are drafted in response to a long-pending demand of animal rights’ activists and will prove to be a step towards humanising sports and entertainments. The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 provides for equal protection for wild animals in protected area and elsewhere.
Circus as a performing art dates back to late 19th century in India and the first organised group appeared in 1880. It was a profitable venture in the beginning. In the early years of independence, circus was even encouraged by the government with concessions like exemption from entertainment tax. There were about 300 circus companies by 1990. The number drastically declined thereafter and at the beginning of the 21st century, according to a report, there were only 23 active companies forming a national circus federation. Several companies existed, but only in name without performers.
In 2010, a new academy was started in Kerala to revive the declining art, but it has not succeeded. It is reported the academy is functioning more as a gymnastic centre. Restrictions on circus imposed by the government have hastened the decline of the enterprise that has failed to grow with changing times and growing technology to become a new form of entertainment.
Many of the circus companies facing losses and finding it difficult to maintain their troupe, and performers earning less and less forcing some rethinking on the future of this perilous entertainment, time seems to be ripe for easy entry of animal-friendly posture to close a losing enterprise.
Should one lament over this decline? Or rejoice that our finer human sentiments and higher purpose of life are asserting to free us from crude and barbarian sports and entertainments?
Under the Performing Animal Rules 2001, animals used in circuses need to be registered with the Animal Welfare Board of India, and owners must always keep ready the documents of registration ready to be produced for inspection whenever asked.
The Performing Animals (Registration) Amendment Rules, 2018 is intended to put an end to abuse of animals for unnatural performances in circuses and infliction of cruelty on animals in the name of entertainment.
While we may not be in a position at present to ban use of animals in food, medical research, and in manufacture of some medicines in view of the Doctrine of Necessity, their use in sports and entertainments and in making decoration pieces stand on a different footing being not a primary requirement for human existence. Even vivisection carried on in medical research, and trial of new medicines and treatments tested on animals have come under severe criticism.
Animals have important roles in human life besides providing food materials. They are used in agriculture, transport services apart from sports and entertainments. Some animals have medicinal properties, some have policing and detective abilities, some can be trained to serve in various types of work, and some are fit to be human pets. Uses are plenty and grow with human ingenuity.
In short, men are so dominating over animal species that the time has come to insist on animal rights and their right to live their own lives subject to safety and security of human life. Hence animal welfare boards are set up and laws and rules are made to regulate human-animal interaction. Animal habitats are protected and human encroachments into animal territories are governed by law.
Under the Indian Constitution, prevention of cruelty to animals is included under Concurrent List in the distribution of powers between the Union and States. One of the Fundamental Duties inserted in the Constitution is “to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures”.
The Government of India issued a notification in 1991 banning training and exhibition of five animals – bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers, and dogs. Its validity was challenged in the Delhi High Court which led to a stay order and constitution of a committee by the government to examine the issue. The committee recommended ban on use of animals except for medical research and in animal husbandry.
When the case came up, the court reminded the citizens that they have not only rights, but also certain duties under the Constitution. The mandate of our Constitution, the court stated: “is to build a welfare society and that object may be achieved to the extent the Directive Principles are implemented by legislation”.
Fresh rules issued in 1998 banned the use of bears, monkeys, tigers, and panthers in circuses. Elephants were exempted. The licences of circuses that were found to force wild animals to perform tricks for entertainment were cancelled after inspection.
Circus shows thrill the audience with the performance of certain feats by some animals on stage. Tigers leaping through a ring of fire, elephants balancing on a tiny pedestal and walking on hind legs are popular items in circus shows, which they do not do by nature. Training for performing such shows involves harsh treatment of animals instilling fear and pain, causing injuries, and confinement in small cages.
Out of stage, they remain mostly chained. Clipping the wings of birds, tethering horses with short ropes, beating elephants, starving and locking the animals are some of the effective forms of disciplining and training methods followed in circuses. Common image of a circus master is a man wielding a whip as depicted in advertisement posters.
In such an inhuman situation, the proposed rules are absolutely needed for humanizing sports and entertainment. India has joined a group of about 40 countries that have imposed full or partial ban on use of animals in circuses.
Depiction of cruelty or violence towards animals in any form on television, cable and other broadcasting networks was banned by the government in 2016. The ban has effectively stopped use of animals to perform dangerous stunts at risk of grave injuries and even death.
While dealing with the circus notification, there is also need to rethink about permitting Jallikattu. It may be a traditional sport and a popular programme in Pongal celebration, but not part of our culture. It cannot be denied that it involves cruelty to animals during training and while performing unnatural acts, which they would not do normally.
The question before us is our readiness to humanize our activities and live like human beings.— INFA