In the name of worship, many of us tend to torture animals. Many forget that snakes are living beings and we should not torture them to fulfill any bizarre ritual
The recently concluded Nag Panchami festival has once again raised questions about the efforts by the State forest department to curb the tradition of catching live snakes for the festival. In the name and process of worship, many of us tend to torture animals. We forget that snakes are living beings and therefore we should not torture them to fulfill any bizarre ritual or force them to be a part of rituals which harm them. Before bringing the snake for worship, snake charmers remove their venom and carry them around in a cloth sack which harms the reptiles. Nag Panchami, which was earlier celebrated to honour snakes, is now being done to abuse and torture them.
“The farmers catch the snakes 60 days prior to the festival as a snake can survive without eating for 60 days. They are leased to charmers for Rs.1,000 per day. The charmers buy them from the farmers two or three days before the festival and earn a handsome amount on the very day in the name of puja. Once the festival is over, the snakes are left in the forest, but as their mouths are stitched shut and venom removed, they can’t eat or drink anything and as a result, they die,” said Mahesh Agarwal, general director, Bharatiya Prani Mitra Sangh and Shayog Organisation.
“The snakes are not fed for 60 days and directly given milk on the festival day. Charmers and worshippers force the snakes to drink milk, which dehydrates them and often leads to their death. Actually, nowhere in the world is a reptile fed milk as it contains glucose and does not suit them. No snake drinks milk but as they are starved for long time, they try to drink milk to satisfy their hunger but soon they fall sick. Not only this, many snakes go blind when the tikka, which is applied to their hoods during puja, trickles into their eyes,” he adds.
However, the animal welfare organisations in the City are happy with the fact that the number of snake charmers have now reduced to a large extent because of their continuous efforts since the last decade. This year, they have rescued 50 snakes as compared to last year’s 146 snakes. They claim that forest officials are still ignorant about the issue.
A new problem has cropped up — women snake charmers. “Of late, women have been participating in the trade. As a result, it becomes tough for us to catch them. Every time we raid or question these women, they start protesting or gather more women from the society and start accusing us. When we once conducted a raid in Ibrahimpatnam, the women snake charmers began to disrobe. We had to leave the are without making any arrests. We have requested forest officials to provide us women staffers, but as usual, they didn’t help us. If a charmer is caught for illegal trading of snakes, as per the law, he should be charged Rs.25,000 per snake and a non-bailable warrant has to be issued. The officials in charge takes only Rs.2,000-Rs.3,000 as fine and let them go,” said Rajendra Kumar from People for Animals.
Worship of snakes is not mentioned in the Vedas or other Hindu holy books, but traditional charmers and worshippers have proclaimed it a right to capture snakes and perform puja on Nag Panchami. Even deadly snakes, including the Indian Cobra — a species protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972) — are captured for this puja. According to Hindu priests and scholars, the custom is to worship idols of the reptile and not live snakes on Nag Panchami.
- Under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, it is a crime to hunt, capture, own, use, harm and kill snakes.
- The dance that snakes perform is actually a fearful reaction to the snake charmer’s pipe, which snakes view as a threat.
- Snakes can survive without food for up to 60 days.
- Around 50 snakes have been caught and are undergoing treatment in the City as a result of being held captive.