Tax Talk

Is the violin really Western? A Carnatic performer explains how GST will damage Indian music

Musical instruments that are not indigenous will attract a 28% tax rate. But Western instruments have been used in Indian music for centuries now.

We are in the best of times, we are in the worst of times. We are making in India, and also breaking in India. In ways that are not often obvious, we are being told how to be patriotic, or worse, nationalistic. The latest of these is the idea of levying Goods and Services Tax – a single nationwide tax replacing all state and Central taxes that came into effect on July 1 – on musical instruments that are not indigenous.

Idiosyncratically enough, this 28% rate is applicable on instruments that are not handmade and not Indian – including, for instance, the violin, which is widely used in Indian classical and film music. It has not been included on a list of 134 instruments that are considered Indian and hence exempt from the Goods and Services Tax. Nearly 60% of that list, though, consists of instruments that have not been played for the past two centuries, making this exemption a bit eccentric.

At the root of this categorisation, though, is a basic problem: music itself has taken multicultural influences over the centuries and differentiating between the purely Indian and purely Western would probably necessitate the formation of an expert panel of historians and musicologists. Despite the GST rules, Indian music is played on a variety of instruments with their origins in the West: the guitar, the saxophone, the mandolin, the violin and, of course, the piano, which is my instrument of choice.

Play

Imagine the situation Padmavathi S, a Carnatic violin teacher in Chennai, finds herself in. Her violin is going to cost 28% more, despite her protestations that the music she is making is unquestionably Indian. A basic violin of reasonable quality was priced at upwards of Rs 2,500, before the new levy but will now cost Rs 3,200 and more. She did not take kindly to my suggestion that she might consider shifting to the “sangu” (Indian conch shell) or maybe even the “algozha (double flute)”.

While the affluent customer is unlikely to baulk at this because of his or her love for the instrument, the majority of the violin’s customer base belongs to the Great Indian middle class, especially in South India.

Prohibitive cost

For those planning to buy more expensive instruments such as the piano, the import duty and the Goods and Services Tax put together make it absolutely prohibitive to even consider buying one. Pianists should immediately consider alternative careers in stand-up comedy (in Tamil or in Hindi, naturally, because English plays attract Goods and Services Tax whereas Indian language plays do not).

In commodifying instruments based on their place of origin, we have now introduced a rather young elephant into an already crowded room. Play an Indian instrument, and play Indian music. If you make the unforgivable mistake of playing jazz or Western classical music, semi-classical or film or any genre that is not purely homegrown as decided by the powers that be, pay the price.

The effects will be felt in a variety of situations. Musical instrument retailers to whom I spoke forecast a decline in sales between 12% and 20% year-on-year. They also fear the impact on music education. Students are worried about taking up keyboard or violin lessons as most teachers expect them to buy their own instruments, which have now become unaffordable to many. The decline in enrolment for music classes this academic year was pegged at 15% among teachers to whom I spoke. This means that we are losing out on considerable instrumental talent in our country.

Unfortunately for most of us, music continues to be a passion. Apart from those who derive their livelihoods from it, it is an important aspect of human endeavour, and one of the most vibrant aspects of being alive. As a pianist, I might have to start a campaign to claim the South Asian origins of my beloved instrument of choice. The alternative, it seems, would be to shift to playing the conch.

Anil Srinivasan is a pianist who lives in Chennai.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Movies can make you leap beyond what is possible

Movies have the power to inspire us like nothing else.

Why do we love watching movies? The question might be elementary, but one that generates a range of responses. If you had to visualise the world of movies on a spectrum, it would reflect vivid shades of human emotions like inspiration, thrill, fantasy, adventure, love, motivation and empathy - generating a universal appeal bigger than of any other art form.

“I distinctly remember when I first watched Mission Impossible I. The scene where Tom Cruise suspends himself from a ventilator to steal a hard drive is probably the first time I saw special effects, stunts and suspense combined so brilliantly.”  

— Shristi, 30

Beyond the vibe of a movie theatre and the smell of fresh popcorn, there is a deeply personal relationship one creates with films. And with increased access to movies on television channels like &flix, Zee Entertainment’s brand-new English movie channel, we can experience the magic of movies easily, in the comforts of our home.

The channel’s tagline ‘Leap Forth’ is a nod to the exciting and inspiring role that English cinema plays in our lives. Comparable to the pizazz of the movie premieres, the channel launched its logo and tagline through a big reveal on a billboard with Spider-Man in Mumbai, activated by 10,000 tweets from English movies buffs. Their impressive line-up of movies was also shown as part of the launch, enticing fans with new releases such as Spider-Man: Homecoming, Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, The Dark Tower, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Life.

“Edgar Wright is my favourite writer and director. I got interested in film-making because of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the dead. I love his unique style of storytelling, especially in his latest movie Baby Driver.”

— Siddhant, 26

Indeed, movies can inspire us to ‘leap forth’ in our lives. They give us an out-of-this-world experience by showing us fantasy worlds full of magic and wonder, while being relatable through stories of love, kindness and courage. These movies help us escape the sameness of our everyday lives; expanding our imagination and inspiring us in different ways. The movie world is a window to a universe that is full of people’s imaginations and dreams. It’s vast, vivid and populated with space creatures, superheroes, dragons, mutants and artificial intelligence – making us root for the impossible. Speaking of which, the American science fiction blockbuster, Ghost in the Shell will be premiering on the 24th of June at 1:00 P.M. and 9:00 P.M, only on &flix.

“I relate a lot to Peter Parker. I identified with his shy, dorky nature as well as his loyalty towards his friends. With great power, comes great responsibility is a killer line, one that I would remember for life. Of all the superheroes, I will always root for Spiderman”

— Apoorv, 21

There are a whole lot of movies between the ones that leave a lasting impression and ones that take us through an exhilarating two-hour-long ride. This wide range of movies is available on &flix. The channel’s extensive movie library includes over 450 great titles bringing one hit movie premiere every week. To get a taste of the exciting movies available on &flix, watch the video below:

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of &flix and not by the Scroll editorial team.