A letter went out from the housing ministry, the government’s real estate manager, in the middle of a global pandemic this October to 27 prominent artistes. The message was standoffish: vacate your government-allotted homes in Delhi by December 31 or face eviction. The notice was sent to Mohiniyattam dancer Bharati Shivaji, painter Jatin Das, Pandit Bhajan Sopori, Pt Birju Maharaj, Rita Ganguly and Ustad F. Wasifuddin Dagar among others.
A PTI report says the artists, dancers and musicians felt harassed and humiliated. ”It seems the powers-that-be don’t value traditional art-forms,” says Shivaji, who lives in the Asian Games Village. The artistes objected to the term “unauthorised” to define their current residence. Kuchipudi dancer Vanashree Rao, wife of dancer Guru Jayarama Rao, says it implies they were occupying the house illegally, although they are paying rent to the government. “We are not squatters,” she says.
Don’t they own houses in the city? Das, Shivaji and Rao ask back: where is the money? I am not a commercial artist. Whatever I earn from my paintings, I use it to buy supplies for my next,” says Das. Shivaji says she shares the proceeds with her crew and there’s little left after that. The artistes—most are above 65—are unhappy with the timing of the notice. “Throughout the pandemic, the PM insisted that landlords should not evict their tenants…and they are doing this to us,” Rao says.