Coronavirus in Bhopal: Artists breathing in the 'cold box', seek government's help saying we are in the 'survival of the fittest' zone

BHOPAL: Survival has become difficult for artistes in the state capital. Auditoriums are closed and there is a complete ban on cultural events and activities due to the second wave of Covid-19-induced lockdown. Shootings for films have also stopped. Hotels are closed and wedding functions have all gone in the cold box. Thus freelance artists have no scope for getting work and the government is not releasing the sanctioned grants for theatre groups.

Last year, the state government had provided online platforms to artistes of the state with the twin objectives of affording them an opportunity to showcase their talents aiding them financially. But nothing has been done to help the artists community this year.

Director of Sagar Guncha Natrang theatre group, Bishna Chauhan who is in the field for 25 years says she lives in rented accommodation with her mother and sister. “We are surviving on my mother’s pension,” she says. Artistes have nothing to do. They can’t even beg. The governments should have some consideration for them, she says. Her theatre group hasn’t received the annual grant from the Government of India for the past three years. “At least the arrears should be cleared,” says Chauhan.

There has been some delay due to the pandemic but the process of release of annual grants is on. We can’t put the lives of the artistes at risk by organising cultural events, whether live or virtual, at this time. We hope and wish that the pandemic ends soon and we are able to resume our normal activities.
Aditi Kumar Tripathi, Director, Culture, Government of Madhya Pradesh

A musician Naeem Allahwale says that the artistes have never seen such bad times. He says artistes who made a living by performing in concerts, wedding receptions and at hotels have nothing to do. He is disappointed that big artists and social workers are not coming forward to speak up for them. “I belong to the eighth generation of musicians in my family. But after seeing all this, I don’t think I would like to teach music to my next generation,” Allahwale says.

Director of the Raising Society of Art and Culture, Preeti Jha Tiwari has been working in the field for the past 19 years. She is the mother of two young daughters and her husband is no more. She says the condition of artistes is pathetic as last year, too, they could hardly work for two months. “We have no savings. Most of us are hand to mouth,” she says. Tiwari says that the artistes have no other skills . “The government should do something about us. After all, in these times when people are depressed, entertainment has become even more important.”

A freelance theatre artist Ravi Arjun says that he had done some shows over the past one year but he cannot even ask the organisers for his remuneration because they haven’t received the grant. Ravi, who lives with his elderly parents, says that in the last round of lockdown he had survived by operating a Rapido bike taxi service. This time even that is not possible because everything is closed. Who would employ me?

Director of Kriti Ballet and Performing Arts, Chandra Madhav Barik, who is in the field for 42 years, says that his group hasn’t received the annual grants for the years 2018-19 and 2019-20 from the Government of India. “How can I make payments to those who work for me,” he says.

Vibha Shrivastava, an artist, who has been selling saris in her neighborhood for the past one year to survive, says the income is not enough for her family comprising her husband and two sons. Her husband, who used to work for a cable TV company, has also lost his job. She is yet to receive the grant from the central and the state governments for fiscal year 2019-20. Shrivastava has been running Ekrang Socio cultural society since 2009.

Anil Ijeri, a freelance painter says that they have been facing many problems for the past one year. He lives in a rented house with his wife and two children. “Making the ends meet has become very difficult,” he says. “Neither painting exhibitions nor art camp are being held due to the pandemic. Painters who were working as art teachers in schools have lost their jobs,” he says. He laments that neither the Central nor the State governments is doing anything to help the artistes. “The Karnataka Government had given an assistance of Rs 5000 to artistes last year,” Ijeri says

Director of Koshish Natya Sanstha Saroj Sharma said that her repertory had not received any grant since 2014. “Grants for 2014-15 and 2015-16 were not paid on the ground that there was delay on my part in submitting information. The grants for subsequent years have been withheld as officials from the Ministry have not been able to conduct inspection due to Covid-19. “Are we supposed to survive on air?,” said Sharma who is in the field for around 40 years

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