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Naga pamchami is one of those festivals in Hyderabad, that is celebrated with great pomp and show. It involves the ritual of worshiping of the Snake as a power capable of granting everything that is wanted. Snakes are prayed to with immense devotion and in return to granting their wishes; they are offered milk and eggs by the ladies of Hindu households. And, like every other ritual that suffers a misinterpretation and exploitation, Nagapanchami remains one of those festivals, which results in the animal torture and mistreatment under the cover of the colors of celebration.

Snakes, as the creatures that they are, fall under the species called Reptiles. Reptiles have typical scaled texture of their skins and their cold-blooded bodies. They naturally feed on insects and smaller animals as per their lengths and body necessities. “According to the Indian custom of feeding snakes with milk is against their natural feeding process. In fact, snakes’ bodies are incapable of digesting the milk protein because of which, they fall ill and eventually die”, says Mr. Ravi Shrivastav, a leading member of GHSPCA (Greater Hyderabad Society for Prevention of Cruelty against Animals), which is based on the same lines of work as those of SPCA and ASPCA.

Snakes To Be Rehabilitated into Natural Habitats Credit: Azael Eyes

Snakes To Be Rehabilitated into Natural Habitats. Credit: Azael Eyes

GHSPCA hands in hands with Blue Cross in Hyderabad and ARRS (Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Society) took up a project on this Nagapanchami, which fell on the Sunday, July 26, 2009 to take measures against cruelty towards snakes in particular. The event involved youngsters from all across Hyderabad; student volunteers from Kasturbha Gandhi College for Women and Womens’ college, Kothi, took active part in the procedures. A group of young men and women gathered at Womens’ college to start up the process. They were issued identity cards and were separated into groups to be lead by experienced members of ARRS to various spots around the city of Hyderabad, where the probability of finding snakes captured by charmers was high. Areas of Old City, Secunderabad, Moosarambagh, Malakpet, Chaderghat were separated and teams were sent. Each team was to roam around in search of any snake charmers who illegally capture snakes from the wild and put them through a horrifying process before taking them on rounds for public exhibition. People are ignorant of the torture the snakes go through before being shown as objects of religious, spiritual and cultural importance.

Mr. Ravi Shrivastav adds, “Snake charmers put these creatures through two to three weeks of starvation before being put for display to the public. This makes the snakes weak for any kind of attack; in addition, they tend to try and eat up anything they find, even water or milk that is offered, though it is dangerous to their systems. Also, their fangs are cut off using pliers and are stitched up using the tailor’s needles, which is totally unhygienic and painful. In the end, when they are done collecting their money, they leave them in the wilderness, without taking out those stitches. Most snakes die due to infection, pain and starvation, as they lose the potential of hunting for their food”.

Shreya shows us Traps that are used to captivate birds...

Shreya shows us Traps that are used to captivate birds. Credit: Azazel Eyes

Shreya, a four-year member of ASSR shares with us her experiences. She says, “This is the 11th time that snakes are being rehabilitated. The number of snakes captured over this time has come to down from around 120 in the first year to 27 now. This is a good sign as it shows that there are lesser snakes in captivity”. She adds, “Snake charmers are located and with the help of experts, we snatch the snakes and take them to safer places. We provide first-aid for the injured snakes they are rehabilitated. Once fit and strong enough to fend for themselves, these snakes are left into their natural environments.

Barryl Huang, a student of Ambedkar University says, “It helped that I was a student of life sciences. I knew the technique of handling snakes and other reptiles. However, it is highly recommended that people don’t try handling snakes without formal training. I managed to catch hold of 9 snakes today, most of which were harmless. Their fangs were cut off and they were starved and injured”.

“ARRS provides training in animal rescue, a 4 day camp organized almost once every month. Youngsters are trained in every kind of animal handling, and adaptation to forest environment, rock climbing and some other basics required for animal rescue. They are rated based on their performances and if they pass, they are given an inspector position. Using this authority, youngsters are free to stand against and avoid any kind of cruelty against animals that they witness. It gives them the right to act, instead of waiting for someone else to do so”, says Nita, a member of ARRS for more than 5 years.

ARRS Team Meet, at the Office in Kothi

ARRS Team Meet, at the Office in Kothi. Credit: Azazel Eyes

Speaking about his experience working on this cause for the first time, Harideep, a final year student of SVIT says, “It was fun going around, though we hardly managed to find any snakes. But then, it is a good sign that there are lesser cases every year; it speaks of the success of the cause taken up”. Girl volunteers from Kasturbha Degree College opined similarly, that though they could not handle snakes as such, it was a nice experience overall, to be a part of the whole program. They said they would surely come back the next year, with more friends.

In this way, the one day struggle against cruel customary practices, which are hazardously dangerous for the eco-system as a whole ended as a success. Though it wasn’t a battle to be fought and won against an enemy, it included the fact that there did exist an enemy called ignorance and fanaticism that need to be checked. This one day war also ended in a note that, youngsters are the only parts of the society that can successfully bring such ideals into practice. It was overall a splendid capacity of strength, organizational skills, power, teamwork, love, care and consideration for living creatures that stood against the vile and vulgar exploitation of nature.

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