Bogus charges filed against snake-charming foes prove to be their lucky charm
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2004:
AHMEDABAD–Being arrested on bogus charges as an alleged
dangerous criminal proved to be a blessing in disguise for Animal
Help Foundation founder Rahul Sehgal, his associates, and the
snakes they were trying to rescue, Sehgal told ANIMAL PEOPLE
When it happened, though, it sounded bad.
“Twelve activists of the Animal Help Foundation were booked
for kidnapping, wrongful confinement, and unlawful assembly,” the
Indian Express reported from Mumbai on September 16, “after snake
charmers from Ganeshpura village in Ganghinagar district filed a
police complaint accusing the activists of abducting them from the
village on September 3.
“Snake charmer Babulal Madari said he and six others were
returning home when they were intercepted by the activists on the
highway and beaten up,” the Indian Express continued.
More than 30 years after the 1973 Wildlife Protection Act
outlawed capturing snakes from the wild, and 14 years after the
Supreme Court of India upheld the portions of the act banning
commerce in snake products and wild animal fur, Indian
snake-charmers still capture more than 400,000 snakes per year,
Wildlife Trust of India researcher Bahar Dutt reported in June 2004.
Most of the snakes soon die from rough handling, including
forced ingestion of milk offerings during the Nagpanchmi and Shashti
holidays, held toward the end of summer and near the winter
solstice. About 60,000 snakes per year are killed at Nagpanchmi
alone, according to a 1999 investigation by the Herpetological
Society of India.
“People pour milk on snake idols but kill a living snake,”
protested the social reformer Basavanna (1131-1167 A.D.), who is
ironically now revered as a Hindu saint for his efforts to abolish
religious superstition, including the caste system. Basavanna died
in exile after two of his most stalwart allies were torn limb from
limb by elephants as a public punishment, discouraging others from
following his example for more than 800 years–but his words were
remembered, and in recent years People for Animals and the Animal
Welfare Board of India have prominently quoted him in urging active
opposition to snake-charming. The Animal Help Foundation crackdown
came parallel to similar actions all over the nation.
“We launched a drive on Nagpanchmi, and received a tip-off
that there were some snake charmers along the highway,” explained
Animal Help Foundation founder Rahul Sehgal. “We went there with
Forest Department officials. The forest officers lodged a case
against them and seized the snakes in their possession.
“We caught six snake charmers with 12 snakes, in the
presence of forest officials,” Sehgal e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE.
“The charmers were brought to our shelter for interrogation, and
since it got really late in the night, the forest guards asked us to
hold them overnight. We are not authorized to hold anyone under
arrest. However, the snake charmers were returned to the custody of
the forestry officials in the morning,” only to be released on a
“The real problem arose,” Sehgal said, “when a legislator
from the charmers’ village tried to intervene while the interrogation
was on, and he was really abused and scooted away by some staff,
which hurt his ego. The moment the charmers were let off, the
legislator took them all to the police station and booked a case
“The first few days after the case was filed, I was quite
worried,” Sehgal admitted, “but later there was a lot of support
and the police themselves refused to continue with the investigation.
This has worked in our benefit,” Sehgal added, “as the Forest
Department is so upset that since that day they have started picking
up these guys and straightaway sending them to prison instead of
settling for a fine.
“Also, with the media hype around this incident,” Sehgal
said, “the Animal Help Foundation is fast developing a reputation
for being action-oriented.”