INDIA. Nagpur: India is a land of diversity and magic. Many foreign countries still see India as a land of ‘snake charmers’ and ‘street performers’. However, the culture that once used to be very popular is now creeping towards extinction. Gone are the days when street performers, ‘stilt walkers’ and street magicians were often seen performing on the streets.
Now, due to restrictions by the government, they are not allowed to perform freely across the country. In a largely ill-defined industry, many people are still jostling for recognition of their craft. Unfortunately, there are no official figures on the number of street performers in India as they are still not acknowledged as artists.
The restrictions had started with the insurgency in Punjab in the 1980s. The performers had a hard time finding a living for themselves and are still suffering due to a lack of recognition and acceptance. Along with this, the animal rights activists had also accused these performers of animal cruelty. Hence, the ‘bandarwala (street monkey show)’ and the snake charmer were deprived of their trades.
The traditional performers lack the primary skills for surviving the contemporary world. Due to a lack of exposure, adaptability, and training, performers are finding a hard time surviving in the era of digitization. The street performers live in pathetic conditions in the urban slums and the pandemic aggravated the vulnerable conditions of these performers. However, even before COVID-19, street performers faced difficulties in India. Their performances do not garner the same crowds as before. Thousands of jugglers, acrobats, street performers, rope walkers, snake charmers are unable to carve out a daily wage.
Anju, a ropewalker from Rajasthan was performing with her mother in the streets of Nagpur. Her rope walking skills were marvelous and garnered a lot of attention. The mother-daughter duo hail from Rajasthan and has been performing in different states of India to earn money and make ends meet.
Talking about the impact of COVID-19 on their lives, her mother said, “We have suffered a lot during this time. I have been performing in different states with my daughter. People do appreciate us and give us money. But, due to the police, we have to move here and there all the time. I had enrolled my daughter in a school, last year. However, due to COVID-19, I’m unable to pay her fees and have to take her everywhere with me for performing.”
COVID-19 has been tough for everyone. However, in times of crisis isolation, art brought us closer to each other and gave us happiness. From doctors making dance videos to make their patients happy to people singing together in balconies, the citizens of India rediscovered the power of art. However, the art of the street performers is still ignored and they are now on the brink of losing their art due to poverty and lack of recognition.