For the second consecutive year, the folk, traditional and performing artistes in Tamil Nadu are facing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the state government has banned the temple festivals in the recent announcement to prevent the second wave, they have been left without work and income during the festival months of April, May and June this year too.
The sudden restrictions, without much contemplation about the impact of such restrictions on the lives of these artists, have led to spontaneous protests across the state. Different associations of the artistes have demanded meaningful relief in the wake of the pandemic, but the response of the government has remained apathetic.
Meanwhile, different artists’ associations claim the presence of more than 6 lakh artists, but only around 38,000 have registered themselves in the Tamil Nadu Folk Artists Welfare Board, according to an estimate by the Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers and Artists Association (TNPWAA). The recent announcement of a cash relief of Rs 2,000, as per a Madras High Court order, applies only to 6,810 artists who were enrolled to the board during the last year.
‘BAN LEAVES ARTISTS AT PERIL’
The pandemic is raging in Tamil Nadu with daily infections breaching the 10,000 mark for the first time. With the caseload increasing at a faster pace, the government announced a set of new restrictions on April 10 followed by another announcement of night and Sunday curfews on April 18.
“The ban on festivals will lead to loss of livelihood for lakhs of artists in the state,” said Adhavan Dheetchanya, general secretary of the TNPWAA.
“The situation of the artists is no different from last year. Most of the artistes thrive on their income during the festival seasons of April and May every year, but two consecutive years of ban has left them helpless. It is impossible to overcome the loss of income for two consecutive seasons,” he said.
The TNPWAA and other organisations had extended help to the suffering artistes during the total lockdown last year, as the government announced a paltry relief of Rs 2,000 .
Further, several artistes’ associations held protests on April 12 against the ban on festivals and demanded Rs 18,000 relief per month to overcome the loss of income.
The associations put the number of artistes at around 6 lakh, who engaged in performing more than 100 traditional, folk and performing arts.
‘NO LESSONS LEARNT’
In spite of a bitter experience due to the unplanned lockdown last year, the government seems to have hardly learnt any lessons. The government has not announced any relief to the artistes in the wake of the recent ban.
“The government should have taken the artistes into confidence before announcing the ban. A reasonable cash relief before the ban as an initial measure would have helped the artistes in a huge way,” Adhavan said.
Around 35,644 artists have registered themselves with the welfare board, which reflects poorly of the awareness created. A special drive for registering in the board attracted only around 6,000 artists more in 2020 after the lockdown was imposed.
“Late in 2020, the TNPWAA held a conference to highlight the demands of the folk artistes. The minister who participated assured constructive measures. But the promises remain only in paper,”
The loss of income and relief would mean that the artistes would have to borrow money for meeting their expenses including educating their children.
A Thappattam (a folk art form) artist said, “The government has not considered our genuine demands on cash reliefs. We had to borrow money to meet our expenses. If the government betrays us this year too, our very existence will be a question mark.”
‘MISLEADING CLAIMS ON CASH RELIEF’
Even as the announcement of the ban has come as a shock, the government seems to highlight the cash relief of Rs 2,000 as a new one.
“The recent announcement of Rs 2,000 cash relief applies to the newly registered 6,810 artists and not to all those registered with the welfare board. The government is projecting this announcement as a new measure, while the fact is otherwise,” Adhavan added.
A Nadaswaram (musical instrument) artist while speaking to NewsClick said, “We used to get a return of more than Rs 2,000 for a single day in the festival seasons. Only a considerable cash relief will save us from starving.”
The functioning of several welfare boards, started after a huge hype, remains pathetic. From appointing members to the boards to sanctioning funds, the consecutive governments have adopted an indifferent approach.
“The duty of the government does not end with providing minimum rations to the artistes. A universal minimum wage should be provided to these artists to save them and the traditional arts from extinction,” Adhavan said.