Indian’s snake charmers (耍蛇者) are to be retrained as wildlife teachers under a plan to prevent their unique skills and knowledge from being lost. The charmers, who make snakes dance to the sound of flutes (笛子), used to be a traditional feature of Indian life, performing in towns and villages, until they were banned in 1972 to control the trade in snake skins.
The government is now considering a plan to train the snake charmers, as they are known, to visit schools and zoos to tell children about forests and wildlife. There is also a proposal to set up a “dial a snake charmer” service to help householders to deal with unwelcome intruders (入侵者).
“For generations they have been a feature of Indian life but now they can't earn a living for fear of arrest,” said Behar Dutt, a professor behind the plans, “if a policeman doesn’t catch them, animal rights activists report them.”
Many snake charmers have continued to work clandestinely since the ban, despite the threat of up to three years in jail. But their trademark cloth-covered baskets, hanging from a bamboo pole carried across their shoulders, make them an easy target (目标) for police.
The fate of Shisha Nath, 56, from Badarpur, a village just outside of Delhi, is typical of practitioners (从业者) of the dying art. “I used to earn enough to support my family and send my children to school,” he said. “Now it's hard to earn even for a day. My children want to be snake charmers. It’s our identity. We love the work. But it’s become impossible.”
Next month Dutt’s project to train 30 snake charmers will begin at a snake park in Pune, western India, where experts will enrich their home-grown skills with some formal knowledge.
More than the law, though, it is the dishonest attitude of their fellow countryman that angers many snake charmers.
“We're disturbed all the time but when people want a snake removed from the house, they rush to us,” said Prakash Nath, who was ordered recently to the home of Sonia Gandhi, the Congress party leader.