The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, or SAHMAT, on Saturday condemned the eviction notices sent to eminent artistes, asking them to vacate their government accommodation in Lutyens’ and South Delhi by the end of this year, and urged the Centre to reconsider its decision.
The trust said that to make globally renowned performers, including Padma Shri awardees like Birju Maharaj, publicly plead to the government was a “blot on the country”.
In October, 27 eminent personalities, including artists, dancers and musicians, were sent notices from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, to vacate their government allotted accommodations across Delhi by December 31, according to PTI. The notice said that if they do not vacate their premises by the given date, “eviction proceedings will be initiated as per Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act”.
Among those who have received the eviction notices are Padma Shri winner Bharati Shivaji, dance legend Birju Maharaj, painter Jatin Das and Indian classical singer Wasifuddin Dagar.
In a statement released on Saturday, SAHMAT said that most of the artists who have been issued these notices are now aged and do not have any other place to reside. They cannot afford the kinds of market rents in Delhi either, the trust added, noting that many people do not realise the precarious financial condition, with which most artists have to cope.
“This is particularly true of dancers, most of whom have had to teach in order to make a living,” SAHMAT said. “That a legend like Pandit Birju Maharaj has to plead publicly that at his age he has nowhere to go and does not have many years left, is a blot on our country.”
The artistes, too, said to abruptly ask them to vacate their homes, made them feel and “harassed, humiliated”, reported PTI on November 16.
Mohiniyattam dancer Bharati Shivaji said she was in “a state of shock” and was yet to determine her plan of action. “This is harassment,” she told the news agency. “I don’t have a separate land or institute, and I have been doing all creative activity from my home. But it seems the powers that may be have no value for the traditional art forms.”
Under the “artistes pool”, the Union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry allots houses to eminent artistes. This is done through the directorate of estates, and on the recommendation of the culture ministry, according to The Hindu. The guidelines mandate that the artistes must be between 40 and 60 years of age and earn up to Rs 20,000 a month to avail the scheme.
These houses are allotted for a period of three years initially. However, the artistes have been given extensions over the years. The last extension expired in 2014.
But on November 8, the Cabinet Committee on Accommodation decided to regularise the allotment, waive off the damage charges from 2014 till September 30, 2020 and ask the artists to vacate by December 31.
“To ask us to vacate during the ongoing pandemic is unfair, unjust and simply inhuman,” Jayaram Rao, a Kuchipudi dancer and Padma Shri awardee, told The Wire. “We don’t have a house in Delhi.” Rao has been staying in the government accommodation at the Asian Games Village that was allotted to him in 1987.
Kathak dancer Birju Maharaj, who was first allotted a house in 1978, said he was surprised to know that the allotment had been cancelled. The Padma Vibhushan recipient told The Hindu that he would “return all the awards” if he is evicted from the Shahjahan Road house allotted to him.
“We will be completely stranded,” said Bharti Shivaji, a Mohiniyattam dancer who lives with her 97-year-old mother at the government-allotted house in the Asian Games Village. “Is this the time, in the pandemic, and without any notice for the government to do this?”