Defying Death: Children in the Indian Circus

  • Jamie Skidmore
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History book series (PSTPH)


The traditional circus has always featured acrobats performing death-defying acts. Audiences sit on the edge of their seats as they watch tightrope walkers balance above their heads and trapeze artists fly through the air. We accept that adults risk their lives as a form of entertainment, but in the Indian circus children and teenagers also defy death on a daily basis. The circus in India has not always exploited its artists, as a role in the circus was once a desired profession.1 This chapter examines the transformation of the Indian circus from an art form based on an indigenous martial art into a business that traffics in child performers. It juxtaposes a unique economic paradigm, the Kerala Model (named for the Kerala region in India), against a circus filled with indentured laborers with few rights or freedoms. Modern slavery is a complex issue, and children in the Indian circus are typically removed from a state of abject poverty and placed into a world devoid of caste or class. It is a community of acrobats and clowns, without the religious and societal restrictions found outside the circus tent in India. These children are provided with food, training, and a “tent” over their heads, but are trapped by contractual fees owed to the circus owners that may never be paid.


Safety Device Indenture Laborer Abject Poverty High Wire Child Movement 
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Copyright information

© Gillian Arrighi and Victor Emeljanow 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jamie Skidmore

There are no affiliations available

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