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E-Pao! Essays - Circus!! Behind the Curtain!!!

Circus!! Behind the Curtain!!!

By: Sarita Hidam *



She might be Durga, Kali, Parvati, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganga… but the story of the girl child today is a story of exploitation, abuse and misery. Instead of being loved and respected, women have become a subject of molestation and even when they live inside closed doors within the sanctuary of their homes, women have to sell themselves on each step of the ladder called life. Another chapter was added to this misery when the story of physical, verbal and sexual abuse of women in Indian Circuses came to limelight by the efforts of BBA/SACCS (Bachpan Bachao Andolan / South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude), a Delhi based NGO.

Little do the families, going to a circus know that the fairy tale world of circus has another face, that the artists performing in front of them are only masking the smiles under their heavily made up faces. The artists are often girls and children who are victims of exploitation and abuse. From morning, when their training begins and they are man handled or beaten, till the time of the night show, where the audience might be drunk and might be only interested in their scantily clad bodies, it is a long day of misery and of harassment.

Circus is one of the ancient forms of indigenous entertainment in the world and these children are entrapped, leading a vagrant tunnelled existence away from the hub of society, which is tiresome and claustrophobic, and dependent on vicissitudes. Life begins at dawn with training instructors' shouting abuses, merciless beatings and two biscuits with a cup of tea.

After 3-5 shows and of lot of pervert comments of the crowds, the young girls can go back to their tents around midnight. Even then, life might have something else in store, depending upon the nature and mood swings of the circus owner and managers. If any girl complains about the un-edible food, or the leaking tent in the rain, or if a child is scared on the rope while performing the trapeze, it is sorted out by the managers' (or employers') within no time. No problems!!

The children not only are deprived of their basic rights to education and a normal playful childhood, but are also faced with exploitation of all sorts; to top their agony is the fact that they have to stay away from their families. BBA/SACCS had been receiving complaints form many parents in Nepal who claim to have lost their children to the circuses.

Most of the complaints were from the parents of the children in the Great Indian circus (formerly known as King Bharat circus), so BBA/SACCS decided to call the parents over to India and conduct a raid and rescue operation on the circus, located in Kerala at the time. The circus was raided on 17th April 2004, resulting in the release of 29 artists, mostly girls. Simultaneously, the circus owner was arrested and the circus was shut down.

Their inhumane and pathetic condition was worsened by the fact that the circuses are always mobile and it was neither possible for any of the artists to contact their parents nor was it feasible for the parents to track down their lost children.Bharati (name change) was sent to work in the King Bharat Circus when she was only 10 yrs old. She was beaten by the trainer during the training sessions and by the owner when she failed to perform nicely during the shows.

She was sexually abused and was not allowed to leave the close confines of the circus premises for 10 yrs and when her father came to take her back home, he was beaten and thrown out of the circus and was told that he cannot take back his child for 7 yrs, as he has signed a contract. At the time of the release, Bharati was threatened by the circus owner that if she leaves, her father would be killed and she has lost her mental balance since.

Bhawana (name change) was sent to the circus by her parents with the false promise of earning 100 Rs. per day. But what she got was sexual abuse for over a year and though she was released a lot of her friends are still languishing in the circus. This is not the only story of this kind. All the artists hail from very poor families and most of them are lured by the agents who promise them a decent life and a good salary to traffic them across the border, or even sell them at times.

The issue of sexual exploitation of artists first came to light when some minor girls in the Apollo Circus complained of perpetual rape by the owner. Alim, the owner of Apollo circus raped several girls along with his brother before they were finally rescued by the police. Most of the circus artists are sexually abused by the circus management and sometimes even sent to the local power lords. These girls come from impoverished family backgrounds, with a dream of getting a good job and are trapped under the false guidance of middlemen who make the gullible parents sign illegal agreements and later use the same agreements to detain the girls.

During the period of such "contracts", the girls are not even allowed to meet their parents and are segregated from the outside world which has given an ideal advantage for such notorious owners to indulge in such illicit activities. Freedom came at last and in the way that these girls had only prayed for. Although, Bhawana and the rest do not know what future has in store for them, but they know one thing for certain - they are never going back to the circus again - not even to watch a show.

Recently, the issue lightened up at the international level when a team led by Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, along with his team went for a raid and rescue operation in Great Roman Circus at Colonelganj of Gonda District in Uttar Pradesh. After receiving complaints from 11 Nepali parents (four parents accompanied) the team approached the local administration for help in securing the release.

But the administration connived with the Circus Owner and the team was brutally attacked with knifes, iron rods, and guns. Kailash Satyarthi, media persons and many more activists were brutally injured during the operation. Raja, the owner of the Great Roman circus was later arrested on charges of rape but this is not an isolated story.

A research shows more than 50% of the girls coming from West Bengal, UP, Bihar and from the north-eastern states including Assam. Many girls from Nalbari district of Assam are engaged in the circuses like Empire, Asiad, etc. One may notice such stories of exploitation of circus artists who are sometimes treated worse than animals. So it is important for everyone to know and understand that it is not a safe place for girls as there are hundreds of Raja's and Alim's inside the close confines of the hellhole called "Circus".




Sarita. H. is working as a researcher in BBA/SACCS( Bachpan Bachao Andolan/South Asian Coalition on Child Servitute) in New Delhi.
She can be reached at [email protected]

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