By: Ashmita Mukherjee
Chennai, February 22: At a folk festival in DakshinaChitra museum, artists and performers expressed their discontent with the government for not effectively aiding them to earn a livelihood and gain access to education.
DakshinaChitra is a living-history museum located 25 kilometres to the south of Chennai. The Navyug Haryana Art and Culture Centre organized the Navyug Haryana Sanskriti group to perform at the museum for a nine-day festival which commenced on February 16. The festival also includes an exhibition of wood craftsmanship of Mahavir Prashad Bondwal and his son, Chander Kant Bondwal from Bahadurgarh, Haryana.
Every February, DakshinaChitra museum hosts a national festival for over a week informed Sahana Rao, program officer.
“Last year the focus was on the culture of Goa and next year we plan to bring in artists from Nagaland. The museum is a project of Madras Craft Foundation, a non-profit organization. We get funds to pay every artist a daily fee of Rs.800.”
On the contrary, Rahul Bagdi the head of the folk music and dance group said,
“All our expenses are paid for by the Ministry of Culture which includes food, travel, daily allowance and accommodation cost.” Bagdi informed that the Navyug Haryana Sanskriti group was created by him six years ago, “to save folk music and culture. We wish government did better to conserve Haryana’s folk culture. The Ministry of Culture spends more money for classical musicians and dancers by booking them flight tickets and paying them a better daily allowance. We are made to travel in train by sleeper class and our allowance is much lower.”
Mahavir Prashad Bondwal, a wood carving artist who was honoured by the government with one national award in 2004 followed by an award by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) the same year said that he used to work on ivory carving until the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 1991 banned the trade of ivory. Since then he has been working on carvings made of sandal wood, kadam wood and ebony wood with his family. He said,
“But with the new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we are forced to pay 12 percent Goods and Service (GST) Tax on import of wood. The taxation is based on sale and it does not take into consideration the money we spend on labour and the hours of work.”
Sandeep Singh, 24 a folk dancer who has been performing since the age of 16, finds himself unhappy with the lack of investment by the government on impoverished youth in Haryana. He said,
“I had been fortunate enough to complete my graduation (Government College of Education in Bhiwani, Haryana) but the others have not been so lucky. Several young men from poor families join the folk troupe because they lack technical skills and have no education. They learn folk dance or song to earn a livelihood. The older generation of singers cannot get other jobs because they are not able-bodied for manual work and lack education for any work that requires any qualification.”
Rahul Bagdi added,
“The Lok Kalakar Union sent an application to the government of Haryana with a list of demands asking for better artists’ pay, access to education through scholarships and introduction of folk music and dance in the academic curriculum of government schools and colleges. We observed a peaceful protest this year as we danced and sang through the streets of Haryana.”