You wouldn’t know it, but Nepal’s first contemporary circus is made up of contortionists, aerialists, and jugglers who all have one thing in common — they were trafficked to Indian circuses as children.
Now that they have been rescued, the artists are putting their skills to use back in their native Nepal, educating communities on the dangers of human trafficking, a crime that has increased in the country since the devastating 2015 earthquake.
The journey of the circus troupe, Circus Kathmandu, has also been documented through a film called “Even When I Fall” that is now available in Britain.
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:
Shot over six years in Nepal, the film follows hula hoop performer Saraswoti and aerial artist Sheetal as they reclaim their lives, overcome the stigma faced by trafficking survivors and reconnect with the families that sold them.
“There’s an incredible transformation. They are inspirational women,” co-director Kate McLarnon told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Saraswoti was eight when she was sold into a circus where she learnt how to throw knives blindfolded. At 14 she was married off to the owner’s son and by 17 she had three children.
Sheetal was trafficked around the age of five. Her family were living in a cowshed when she was handed over to traffickers promising a better life.
“The families are sold a lie. Mostly the children are just never seen again,” said McLarnon. “The training is brutal and very dangerous, and the conditions are terrible.”
Circus Kathmandu was formed in 2010 and has performed in Dubai and at Britain’s Glastonbury music festival. They are due to visit Australia soon.
Members of the troupe explained that they raise awareness about trafficking to local communities through workshops using drama and circus skills.
“Circus is a great tool for breaking down barriers. It’s a family entertainment and it’s the families you need to be talking to,” said McLarnon.
One performer explained that the circus also aims to decrease the stigma of girls and women who return home after being trafficked.
“In Nepal circus has a very bad name. People assume that all bosses rape the girls. But circus is an art. I don’t feel ashamed.”