Snakes’-Rights Activists Put Indian Snake Charmers Out of Work

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Hunting or keeping snakes has been illegal in India since the passage of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. That law has been widely flouted (or maybe fluted?) by snake charmers who pursued their art for centuries before the WPA was around, but “growing environmental awareness” has now caused the government to crack down on the turbanned reptile exploiters.

“We now have accepted the fact that we cannot perform with snakes,” said Hawa Singh Nath, a 68-year-old New Delhi resident who evidently speaks for all of India’s snake charmers. (Maybe he’s head of the union.) This may be sort of a mixed bag, however, since although a lot of snake charmers are now out of a job, the job they are out of seems to have sucked to begin with. “At the best of times,” said the report, “snake charming is not a profitable profession,” and the charmers tend to “live in squalid settlements on the outskirts of cities….” Nath confirmed that under the new regime, “[w]e are hardly earning half of what we used to earn before,” which has presumably doubled the squalidity quotent of charmer settlements.

But there’s no stopping the resourceful snake charmers of Rajasthan [or insert your favorite Indian state]. Having accepted the new snakes’-rights agenda, they are turning to other jobs to survive, primarily involving their skills with the flute. Many now do weddings or birthday parties, or just perform their ancient music sans reptile. Nath himself performed at the Dubai Film Festival in 2005. Other charmers have reinvented themselves as guides at animal centers or forestry offices, where they tell visitors about their revered snakes (typically cobras), which appear in Hindu texts, often associated with the deity Shiva.

In the movie version of this story, the millions of now-uncharmed snakes lurking around India will start carrying off children and cows, and possibly even infiltrate airplanes (although that seems very unlikely and would certainly make for a stupid movie). Eventually, the last of the Indian snake charmers will come out of retirement and flute the country back to safety. It sort of sounds like Rocky Balboa, except with millions of snakes and no Sylvester Stallone.