Kutla Khan, a folk musician from Rajasthan’s Barmer district, says he is nearly starving with his family due to loss of all avenues of income after cultural events and marriages dried up owing to restrictions to contain the coronavirus pandemic. While other unfortunate circumstances too contributed to his prolonged misery, circumstances precipitated by the coronavirus are primarily responsible for pushing him and other folk artists in the region to the brink, he adds.
Till about two years ago, Kutla had no reasons to complain as he was busy performing in musical events across the country and even abroad, however, a fire in July 2019 not only destroyed his house but also left him with severe burn injuries, he recalls with pain.
While his burnt face meant he received very limited invitations to musical events, the coronavirus pandemic snatched even the last straw keeping him and his family afloat as his remaining source of income in local weddings and festivals became minimalistic affairs. For the past one year, Khan says he has generated no income to support his wife and four kids.
“My wife and kids are managing the family’s needs by doing menial jobs at people’s house or by begging. I have approached the authorities for assistance but my plea was ignored,” Kutla Khan says.
Mehboob Khan, another folk musician, says some folk musicians were earlier helping struggling musicians like Kutla Khan but are no longer in a position to do so since they too were struggling to make the ends meet due to the freeze on musical events. He says he has approached the Barmer district collector seeking help, including ration kits, to sustain the families of the local folk artists.
“The government should take some initiative for folk artist as they belong to the weaker section of the society, otherwise not only the artists but their art will also die,” Mehboob Khan says pensively.
Folk artists from the Thar desert are globally known for their music and regularly represent India in cultural festivals abroad but have traditionally depended on patrons for their upkeep.
Fakira Khan, an international folk artist, says, “We used to manage our needs from the income from cultural events, weddings and festivals. For generations we have entertained our patrons musically in return for cattle or cash. Earlier functions like marriages were not possible without our presence. But in Covid-era nobody is inviting us, leading to starvation-like conditions.”
Barmer’s additional district collector Om Prakash Bishnoi told HT that the administration was offering all possible help.
“With the help of some NGOs, we have distributed ration kits to the families of folk artists. Besides this, we are exploring other options to help them as per their requirements,” he said.
Narendra Tansukhani, secretary of Marudhar Lok Kala Mandal– an NGO working for the welfare of folk artists– says local folk artists are like the soul of western Rajasthan and the government has a duty towards them.
“Government must understand that the folk artists are the cultural heritage of western Rajasthan. Hence, the government should take some initiative to protect them otherwise we will not only lose them but will also lose our cultural identity.”