A note on the plight and future of Circus. Scenes from Asiad Circus, New Delhi.
The photo was featured by National Geographic as part of their daily dozen top shots on 16th Oct – See here.
A few months ago, a photographer friend and I went to get some behind the scenes action at an Indian Circus group – Asiad Circus – who were performing in Delhi. After much cajoling, we eventually ended up talking to the owner and the artistes and were pretty moved and overwhelmed by their plight.
The reluctance towards talking to outsiders is quite palpable. The owners and artistes are very wary of talking to either media or the general public as it is difficult for them to gauge on which side of the debate the other person is coming from. Empathy for their situation is often lacking.
Years ago, under NGO and public pressure, circuses were forced to give up usage of animals in the circus. Lions, Tigers, elephants etc which were the big draws for children to drag their parents to a circus, had to be given up. Along with that went the traffic and many big circuses had to wind up with the falling footfalls. The ones remaining are finding it hard to cope up with high rentals, intense scrutiny of officials (often having to end up paying bribes for nothing) and rising costs of running a circus. The problem of finding artistes is also compounding the problem. Many artistes in yesteryears were homegrown in circus, raised in the circus from their childhood and groomed to be performance artistes. With new laws on child safety and labour, circuses can’t groom young children anymore to be artistes. To keep the footfalls going, many hire foreign artistes from Russia and Kenya to bring in the novelty and wow factor but that also impacts the running costs of the circus. Years of government neglect and support in providing the circus the right technology to upgrade themselves have left them with no means to continue in the business. Artistes are finding themselves jobless, often having spent their entire life in the circus and now finding themselves with no other employable skills and nowhere else to go.
Both sides of the debate on the plight of circus are quite valid. But in these times, the debate has to be constructive towards solving the problem. The need of the hour is for the government to provide cutting edge technology to these circuses to upgrade themselves, reduce the entertainment tax and rentals that can help the circuses survive. Rehabilitation programs with skill development and deployment should be put in place to help the artistes to settle into a life beyond the what was their home, the circus.