The Government of India has proposed prohibition on the use of animals for performances, exhibition at any circus or mobile entertainment facilities, a move hailed by animal rights activists as ‘progressive and laudable’. 

The Environment Ministry, in a draft notification dated 28th November, has invited comments from various stakeholders on the issue within 30 days. The draft also defined circus as means of a large pubic entertainment, typically presented in one or more very large tents or in an outdoor or indoor arena, featuring exhibitions of pageantry, feats of skill and daring, performing animals, among others. 

The deplorable condition of horses, dogs, exotic species of parrots, elephants and hippopotamus in all circuses over many years is well known to us. The Central Zoo Authority withdrew recognition for use of all elephants in circuses. No other Indian wild animal was allowed to be used anyway. 

However, hippos, macaws, cockatoos, which are exotic wild species were being smuggled in for unnatural performances in circuses, despite CITES - Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora - restrictions. The Animal Welfare Board of India also took note of the cruelty and de-recognised most circuses, but the implementation was a challenge in the absence of a clear cut and comprehensive order. Intelligent and sensitive animals are not ours to enslave and torment in animal-exploiting circuses for our amusement. 

A ban on the use of animals in circuses would bring our country in line with other countries that have already made this move and show the world that we are a progressive, compassionate nation that does not tolerate animal abuse. (One might always ask, whether this should not be case of human beings also here!). 

In their natural homes, animals spend much of their time roaming, searching for food, taking care of their young and spending time with members of their families. In the circus, they are denied all of this. Instead of being allowed to move freely, they are kept chained and caged for most of the day and night. 

Their only exercise comes during training sessions and performances, when they are intimidated into doing acts that are meaningless and unnatural to them. Enough proof is available about the cruelty being meted out to them by the circus managements. There would always be people who cling to their nostalgic value citing circus as their childhood dream show. 

But, let us realise that it is tantamount to cruelty and it has to go. If confining animals in crammed places, chained and training them to unnatural acts is not cruelty, then nothing is. Now, it must leave own and leave the animals alone. There are other issues too here. Whether this ban would mean no joyrides on elephants and camels in places like Rajasthan? Strong voices have been opposing elephants for temple rituals too. What happens now? How about Mysuru Dasara festival animals? Every year we witness litigation over cock fights in coastal AP and the bull race in Tamil Nadu. Will tradition be exempted? Modernism is bound to clash with such traditions once again in this country to the detriment of animal welfare. Alas!

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