Snake charmer
Snake charmerPixabay

As India celebrated Nag Panchami on Sunday, Aug. 8, by worshipping snakes, activists have decried the treatment meted out to these reptiles at various places across India. They say that snakes suffer the most on or before the day they are worshipped all across the country.

NG Jayasimha, a member of the India chapter of Humane Society International, explained to International Business Times, India, the torture that snakes are subjected to in the run-up to Nag Panchami, which is celebrated in the lunar calendar month of Shravan. People worship the reptiles asking for welfare of members of their families.

"Snakes are reptiles, that do not drink milk. That is a behaviour seen in mammals," he said, adding: "They drink milk only on Nag Panchami because they are kept hungry and thirsty for nearly a fortnight, and are yearning for some liquid intake."

He also described the manner in which snakes are ill-treated by snake charmers. "The snakes are held tightly around delicate joints near their head and their fangs are brutally wrenched out using a pair of pliers or similar instruments. The venom glands are cauterised with a hot needle and the mouth is stitched up, leaving a small opening for the tongue to emerge. Many snakes develop gangrene at the site of the stitches," he said in an email. 

But if snakes do not drink milk, why do we believe they do? Jayasimha has an answer for that as well! "In the past, when snakes emerged after monsoon rains flooded their burrows, farmers would give them offerings of rice and milk. These offerings would attract rats and other small creatures, which would in turn lure snakes. The theory is that by providing them with easy access to their natural prey, farmers hoped to keep snakes away from the fields while they worked, and thus managed to avoid being bitten inadvertently. Unfortunately for snakes, these myths and customs morphed into a belief that salvation lay in a snake's acceptance of milk and vermillion," he said in the email.

People for Ethical Treatment to Animals (PETA) India spokesperson Nikunj Sharma had more harrowing tales in store. He told IBTimes India: "I was told in a village in Maharashtra that taking selfies with snakes was the new craze. People would drape snakes around their necks and click selfies."

It was not so much as the photos as the handling that was the problem. Sharma said: "I was told at least 40-50 snakes died in front of this one temple because of the rough manner in which they were handled while selfies were taken."