PROTESTS against the stifling weight of Indian bureaucracy turned venomous yesterday when an angry snake charmer dumped three bags of poisonous snakes at officials' feet.
The release of up to 40 snakes, including four deadly cobras, sent workers rushing for the exit as the serpents slithered across the floor of a land registry office in the town of Harraiya, in Uttar Pradesh. People clambered on to tables to escape being bitten while others shook pieces of cloth at the snakes to scare them off.
At least one hooded cobra was pictured rearing into its "strike" position.
"Snakes started climbing up the tables and chairs. Hundreds of people gathered outside the room, some of them with sticks in their hands, shouting that the snakes should be killed," said Ramsukh Sharma, an official, who said that the snakes caused "total chaos".
The snakes were eventually recaptured by police and workers from the state's forestry department but the snake charmer who released them, Hukkul Khan, who lives in the nearby village of Lara, was still being hunted.
Locals said that Mr Khan was frequently called in when snakes had been spotted, to help capture them.
He is said to have become aggrieved because officials in the office had blocked a plan to grant him a plot of land on which to keep the snakes that he had caught.
He alleged that they wanted illegal payments to approve the paperwork.
Bahar Dutt, an animal rights activist who has worked for eight years with snake charmers in India, said that many of them were struggling to find new forms of employment after the practice was outlawed under Indian law."Many snake charmers in India are having a tough time. They face a lot of problems readjusting to a new life."
Pushkar Raj, general secretary of India's People's Union for Civil Liberties, said that the incident reflected growing frustration among ordinary Indians with corruption in the country's bureaucracy.
"I wouldn't condone it but increasingly in India this kind of thing attracts public support ... Either you go to the courts, which for many Indians are unintelligible, and favour the rich, or else you make a statement like this."
Amita Singh, professor of law and governance at Jawaharlal Nehru University, agreed.
"For ordinary people in India it's a very difficult battle. Corruption has become such a culture at the grass roots and has become so frequent that it is very hard to remove it," she said.