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Bauls in West Bengal Languish due to Government Apathy

Folk musicians whose rustic tunes and lyrics have inspired the likes of Tagore and Dylan suffer as state stops paying their monthly stipend.

Sisir Hazra is a folk musician from West Bengal. He belongs to a sect of mystic itinerant minstrels called Bauls who exist in rural Bangladesh and West Bengal. As a folk singer Hazra is entitled to a monthly stipend of 1000 rupees. But even this small sum is not reaching him. “First they gave me 7000 rupees and then 6000. That was in October 2015. But I have not been paid at all since 2016. It’s been over 20 months since I received my last payment,” Hazra says.

But Hazra is not the only one to have not been paid. Community Correspondent Debgopal Mondal’s research has revealed that over 5000 folk artists from Birbhum district of the state have not received their stipends. Baul songs are listed by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The songs often speak about spirituality and humanity that extends beyond religious divides and have increasingly found purchase with mainstream audiences across the world. Famous exemplars like Paban Das Baul have travelled the world performing with the likes of Bob Dylan.

The government of West Bengal is well aware of the cultural mileage of this folk tradition and are quick to milk it. The state culture was showcased through Baul performances at the 2016 Republic Day Parade in New Delhi. And yet these talented musicians face apathy and neglect in their own state. “I have two school going daughters and a household to run. The 1000 rupees would really help with that and also for covering travelling expenses when I perform outside the village,” says Hazra. The government functionaries keep passing the buck when he goes to claim his dues. “The Block Development Officer said this did not concern his department and that I should go meet the District Magistrate,” he adds. To get to the office of the District magistrate Sisr Hazra would have to travel for over two hours. He as unable to make the trek.

Community Correspondent Debgopal Mondal went to meet the District Magistrate on his behalf but he was on leave. The Additional District Magistrate promised to resolve the matter as soon as possible although she declined to be interviewed on camera. Two months have passed since then. Please help Sisir Hazra and other folk artists like him by calling the District Magistrate P. Mohan Gandhi on +91 3462255222 and asking him to release the stipends immediately.

Video by Community Correspondent Debgopal Mondal

Article by Madhura Chakraborty, a journalist in the VV Editorial Team

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