Dancing Bears in India
a nomadic gipsy tribe date themselves and the origin
of bear dancing back to the 13th century and the pre- Mughal
era. Qalandars gained prominence as the royal entertainers
in the courts of the Mughal emperors where they also performed
magic tricks and staged wrestling bouts. Once the emperors
and kingdoms became history, they started to perform 'Bear
dancing' for the general public.
Domestic and international visitors to India
would often see these bear dancers on the highway between
Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Today, about 800 dancing bears are
performing on the streets across the country. In India,
bear dancing is banned by the Wildlife Protection act 1972.
But various socio-economic and political factors have made
it a difficult task to implement this law.
Qalandars purchase the sloth bear cubs from tribal poachers/traders and then train them to dance
and respond to commands using the crude tools of pain and fear.
At the tender age of just six months, a crude iron needle
is heated and driven through their muzzle without anesthesia
or any other antibiotic, and a rough rope is pulled through
the sensitive swollen muzzle. This agony of grossly swollen
muzzles and torn tissues together with a fair amount of
beating and systematic starvation usually teaches the bears
who the master is. The bears live the rest of their lives
at the end of a four foot long rope and with no stimulation
at all, thus causing several mental and stereotypical symptoms.
Male cubs are also castrated at a very young age to keep
their owners safe, again crudely by use of a razor, without
anesthesia or antibiotics. Canine teeth are removed when
one year old, by knocking them out with a metal rod.
For the rest of its life, the
bear will dance on the road to earn money for the
Qalandar. The wound on the muzzle will never heal and often
be infested with maggots. Most of the bears will "bear"
the suffering only for a few years since they will die due
to Tuberculosis, Leptrospirosis or Rabies. We have noted
that a large number of dancing bears are blind due to malnutrition
but were still being used by the Qalandars for dancing.