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Last Updated: Monday, 9 February, 2004, 05:48 GMT
India's endangered snake charmers

By Rajeev Khanna
BBC correspondent in Vadinagar, Gujarat

Karsan Nath charms his black King Cobra
Karsan Nath says the government must help ailing families
A dowry in this sleepy corner of Gujarat often used to consist of a couple of snakes. But not any more.

Such a gift in the famous snake-charming village of Vadinagar, close to the town of Bhachau, could ensure a family's livelihood.

But that was before authorities started to enforce more strictly the Indian Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.

Over the past few years, the snake-charming community has suffered serious economic hardship.

It is difficult for me to even feed my snake - I can barely afford it
Snake-charmer Karsan Nath

Most of the charmers now work as day labourers.

Some of the more elderly have grown their hair long and have dressed as ascetics to beg for food.

Karsan Nath is the head snake-charmer.

He belongs to the Nath community that hails from Jodhpur in Rajasthan but which has been in Gujarat for nine generations.

"Our sole vocation used to be catching snakes and displaying them in public," he says.

"This was accompanied by various other acts of juggling. But particularly in the past decade, the government has become strict and we have lost our livelihood."

'Crisis'

Though he has forbidden his community from catching snakes, Mr Nath himself still owns a black King Cobra - just in case he is asked to prove his skills once more.

He can also hypnotise his audience into believing he has converted their rupee notes into other denominations.

Mr Nath still likes to dress up as the chief of his community.

But as his cobra hisses at his side he laments: "It is difficult for me to even feed my snake. I have to feed it with milk and eggs on alternate days and I can barely afford it."

He talks candidly of the battle with the government over its implementation of the Wildlife Protection Act.

"There are more than 300 families in Vadinagar alone who are facing an economic crisis. The government should do something for their rehabilitation," Mr Nath says.

The community's culture is changing - the snake dowries are gone although at least now more children are attending school.

Still, the elders rue the fact that they are not able to pass on the skills of catching snakes, extracting their poison and making them perform to the tune of a pipe.


SEE ALSO:
Snake charmers fight for survival
06 Feb 03  |  South Asia
Snake charmers put on a show
18 Aug 01  |  South Asia


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