Covid-19 related prohibitions came into force in March 2020 and are continuing to cripple many professions, especially those of artists from the unorganised sector who survive on public performance.
Puppet artists are among those who were already facing a recession in terms of opportunities served to them in the past few years. Mostly illiterate, these artists migrated from various districts of Rajasthan including Sikar, Nagaour, Jaipur and others and settled in various parts of Bhopal such as Rajiv Nagar, Roshanpura and Idgah Hills.
Besides puppetry, these families used to sing and dance in marriages besides forming Punjabi dhol groups for these events and earned decent living but these functions too have ceased since March 2020, sending these families in huge financial distress.
As things turned worse, women also took to the streets to beg with kids to arrange meals for families.
Kishore Bhatt, a middle-aged artist from Rajiv Nagar (Kotra) told News18 that his family of eight is facing a tough time since last year. “We perform puppetry, beat dhols and also make toys of sagaun wood but all this has stopped in prohibitions, he said.
He claimed that puppet artist till a few years ago were invited by government departments and NGOs for publicity and awareness drives but they hardly got any work in last three years. And lockdown came as a bold from the blue.
Young members of the community had also formed Punjabi dhol and dance groups but as there are no marriages or events, they are sitting idle at home.
One of them, Manoj Bhatt (26) said that earlier they used to get work from the government and NGOs but now it’s difficult to run families as they have nothing to do. We have extended families but have no earning to take care of them and are surviving on help from volunteers, said Manoj who claimed still he wants his kids to keep this art of puppetry alive in future.
The society where illiteracy rules the roost is also not spared by social evils like daughters not being encouraged to study, child marriages and so on. A city-based NGO had in the past worked among them for girls’ education and social awareness but when it left, things returned to usual.
Still one of the girls encouraged by the NGO, Meena Bhatt now is working in the community to improve things.
Meena herself is from a family of puppet artists. I remember my father used to perform in Aug 15, Jan 26 and other functions. Her mother Shanta bai (80) too was an adept artist. “I have performed before Indira Gandhi’s father in Allahabad,” said the elderly woman who used to perform and sing the tale of the famous Rajput king of Marwad Amar Singh Rathore.
Meena who works with an NGO ‘Yuva’ works among her community and other slum dwellers helping them prepare documents to avail government benefits. She is also helping locals with ration and other things.
Maybe it’s a family of five or ten, we get five kg each of PDS wheat which lasts only for a few days, said Meena who is a single mother of three kids as she left her husband (Rajasthan) as he was jobless and drunkard.
We are an artists’ clan so we can’t do anything else and most of these families are in huge distress, said the young volunteer in his 30s who studied till class VIII and is trying to clear high school through correspondence. I want my kids to study but I also want them to keep our tradition of puppetry alive, she claimed as is the wish of others in the community of around 200 in Rajiv Nagar.
Those in other areas including Roshanpur and Idgah Hills are facing similar problems as local administration is yet to extend any help to the community.
We are hoping that prohibitions are gone at the earliest and we are offered work by government agencies and private parties, said Prakash Bhatt (45) who lamented that government did not include them in covid19 awareness and safety initiatives as puppetry could have been an effective way of conveying messages in the pandemic.