Report: Reduced govt spending, pandemic make survival tough for artistes | India News – Times of India


As the current wave of Covid-19 sweeps across India, performance artists are staring at possibly another year of no work, no stage events. In Madhya Pradesh’s Dewas city, bhakti singer Kaluram Bamaniya, has taken multiple loans to make ends meet and to support musicians in his troupe. “Before Covid, we used to make anywhere between Rs 6 and 12 lakh a year. But now, my five musicians are doing daily labour to survive,” said Bamaniya whose monthly expenses are around Rs 30,000 and has a family of six to look after. He also supported his troupe for a while. “I think I may also have to sell my car,” said Bamaniya who is renowned for his Kabir bhajans and has performed all over the country.
In Delhi, the Nizami Brothers – official qawwals at the Nizamuddin dargah – have a similar tale to tell. With the dargah closed for most part of last year and no cultural events being hosted the famous qawwal group has been surviving on their savings but don’t know for how long. “There are about 50 qawwals who perform at the dargah. We have different groups…and all of them have just been sitting at home for more than a year. The peers at the dargah have helped us survive but we don’t know what we will do in the future is this situation persists,” said Ghulam Warsi Nizami, the younger brother of the duo, who have performed at the Royal Albert Hall. Both Bamaniya and Nizami said that they hadn’t received any help from the government and felt disappointed and let down.
India is a signatory to the 1980 UNESCO Recommendation which recognises the right of artists “to benefit from all the legal, social and economic advantages pertaining to the status of workers”. And yet, India has consistently been reducing budget for culture since past five years and this year’s allocation has been the lowest, according to a new report by Sahapedia, an open online resource on the art, culture and heritage of India. The report highlights how allocations for the ministry of culture as a proportion of GoI budget have remained marginal for the last decade, averaging at 0.11%. For the last five years though, they have shown a declining trend falling to a miniscule 0.07% in FY22 – the lowest in the last 10 years. Mid-year revision last year during the lockdown saw the budget on art and culture across ministries being slashed by 21%, further aggravating the resource crunch in the sector. This year the budget was cut by 15%. These cuts have hurt more since the pandemic started as artistes are left without a steady income due to closure of cultural venues and events.
In contrast, countries like the UK, Germany, Singapore and Australia have acknowledged the impact Covid-19 has had on their creative economies and extended help. In the UK, chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a £1.57 billion rescue package last July for arts, culture and heritage industries. Germany released a €50 billion aid package for the cultural sector. In Singapore, the government set up a 55million Singaporean dollar fund for arts and culture.
The Sahapedia report noted: “Low allocations were further compounded by delays in fund release and mounting vacancies ranging from 30-70% in institutions supported by the MoC.” According to the World Bank estimates the creative sector provides 30 million jobs worldwide and contributes 7% to the global GDP.
“Each artiste needs 33 people as support staff to perform on stage. If artistes don’t perform, they don’t eat. They have no recourse to financial schemes. Low budget allocation for culture is both a policy and implementation issue,” said Sanjoy Roy, managing director, Teamwork Arts, which organises Jaipur Literature Festival and other cultural events. Yasmin Kidwai, a filmmaker and a politician who works for artistes said that the government’s lack of vision for culture is worrisome. “It needs to have a plan and policy for culture,” she added.
However, certain state governments did step forward to support their struggling creative economy. For example, Rajasthan started a scheme last year under which folk artistes can shoot videos of their performances and get a chance to win cash prizes. The Kerala government announced financial assistance of Rs 1,000 last November to 30,000 artistes and performers who were suffering due to Covid-19 restrictions and had not received any other financial aid.
Bigger, established artistes also pitched in with relief efforts. The iBelieve Art Matter initiative by Teamwork Arts last year raised Rs 75 lakh for about 5,000 artiste families. Supported by UNESCO, FICCI and ICCR, the initiative broadcast dance, music, theatre and cinema performances to 1,90,000 viewers on social media and TV. A second edition of this initiative will be launched in May, 2021.

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