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Is this the end of the road for circus?

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TROUBLED TIMES: A circus performer poses for the camera.
TROUBLED TIMES: A circus performer poses for the camera.

Susan Muthalaly

On top of ban on wild animals, it has to deal with anti-child labour law enforcement `If the Government decides to view circus acts involving minors as child labour, the next generation might never see a circus'

CHENNAI: The Jumbo Russian Circus is doing a balancing act these days. First, the ban on wild animals caused a 20 per cent drop in ticket sales; now it is confronted by another pachyderm-sized problem - the anti-child labour law. Yet, the show must go on.

"If the Government decides to view circus acts involving minors as child labour, the next generation might never see a circus," says Ajay Shankar, a partner at the Jumbo Russian Circus, now in Chennai.

Mr. Shankar does not see the children as being exploited. "These are artists: they have to be trained young, like gymnasts," he says. His circus takes on children from the age of 13, though ideally, he says, they should start at six when their bodies are more flexible, like they do abroad.

K. Chandru, senior advocate, says circus workers come under a separate act, but legislation bans the employment of children below 14. Young adults (children between 14 and 18) have protective acts such as the Minimum Wages Act, but no acts provide for alternate schooling, he says. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2000 clearly states that using children to earn money is prohibited, says Mr. Chandru. "Parents who give their children to be used in this way can be prosecuted and a child can be put in a home." In India, parents bring their children to the circus to be trained.

Mr. Shankar says there are always takers for the circus because all their needs are taken care of.

Mr. Shankar says the daily investment in running a circus is tremendous. The management pays Rs.10,000 a day to use Chennai's MUC grounds, where they are anchored for the next three months. In Mumbai it's Rs.5,000, in Kolkata Rs.2,200 and in Delhi Rs.8,000.

He appealed to the State Government to grant them subsidies.

According to him, the Government has a big role to play in preserving the art, even when it comes to wild animals. "Everywhere in the world, they use wild animals. The problem here is that the Government has used the same yardstick for circuses and zoos," he said.

However, he said, circuses were open to being monitored by the Government on the issue of maintenance of their animals.

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