Hearing a plea seeking a direction to the government to establish a separate welfare board for traditional arts practitioners, the Madras High Court had observed that timely financial assistance was needed for these artistes during times of distress such as the shutdown, lest the practitioners, and by extension the art, may die out. For members from the theru koothu community, February to September is the busy season. According to Pralayan Shanmugasundaram Chandrasekaran, theatre artiste and founder of the Chennai Kalai Kuzhu, nearly 1,200 performances are held during these months, but not this year.
“Performers earn anywhere between Rs 1,200 to Rs 6,000 per performance, which has been taken away from them. Given the way the pandemic is progressing, it is unlikely that they will be able to perform within September. The government did give performers a relief of Rs 2,000, but that is not enough,” he said. According to TN Ramanathan from the Nagaswaram Thirumeignanam, only five per cent of nadaswaram artistes have a second job, forcing many to search for alternate sources of income. Few have even taken up daily-wage jobs to tide over the crisis. “Despite us advising against it, many performers have taken loans at high-interest before the pandemic. Now, there is little to no chance for them to cover even the principal amount,” said Hanne M de Bruin-Rajagopal, programme director, Kattaikkuttu Sangam.
Chandrasekaran said a seminar would be held in the next few days to ascertain the demands of the traditional arts community, with inputs from traditional theatre, arts, music and dance communities.
Some of them have asked for allowances to practice their art more effectively. “We are slowly getting a few more opportunities now as the Aadi month ends. If the government could give us a e-pass to move across districts, we would be able to get more opportunities,” said Ramanathan. However, financial compensation will do little to solve the systemic issues faced by these communities, said Bruin-Rajagopal. “Money needs to go into education for traditional arts, as this is a systemic issue that starts from the grass-root. Traditional arts are not dying out, no matter what people say, just because they are not contemporary. Without changes, artistes will only continue to suffer,” she said.