Poverty is forcing many artistes, musicians, craftsmen and others in Bangladesh to give up long-practised art forms like jatra, jari gaan, putul nach and other special skills that they had learnt from their ancestors to entertain people.
Many of these artistes and artisans do not even want that their children to follow them taking up performing art or crafts as their professions.
In random interviews, many artistes and artisans have told New Age that they have got nothing except enduring hunger, poverty, humiliation and negligence in society where disparity between the rich and the poor is ever growing.
The government has not extended financial support to the destitute artistes neither has it helped them create alternative sources of income as many developing countries across the globe have done for preserving their traditions, researchers and cultural activists allege.
Narayanganj-based nakshi kantha stitching artisan Hosne Ara, who won the best prize in embroidered quilt making competition organised by Bangladesh Folk Arts and Crafts Foundation in 2010, said she would not want her daughter to take it up as her profession like she had done.
‘I don’t want my daughter to stitch quilts and beg the NGOs and government officials like me to buy quilts at a throwaway price. Rather, I want her to get a respectful job,’ Hosne Ara said.
Shova Mohanto, lead-singer of a Gaibandha-based pala gaan (a traditional performing art form) troupe, said he had no savings and was struggling to provide his family with basic amenities despite performing with different troupes for the past 40 years in the nightlong shows in different northern districts.
‘Now, I have opened a grocery store and perform occasionally just for entertainment,’ Mohanto said.
Bangladesh Jatra Shilpa Unnyan Parishad president Milon Kanti Dey informed that the number of jatra troupes dropped from 210 to 107 in the past 30 years.
‘Out of these 107 troupes, only 30 or 40 are now active while others are struggling to survive,’ Milon said.
Not only jatra, but various other fine and performing arts, music genres and other intangible cultural heritages such as jari gaan, jogir gaan, kushan gaan, manikpirer gaan, pat gaan, ashtak gaan, shokher hari, gazir pat, putul nach are also facing threats of disappearance in the era of globalisation where people have various other sources of indoor entertainments available on TV, internet and different other gadgets, folklore experts and researchers have said.
‘The ever-growing popularity of indoor entertainments is shrinking job scope for many traditional artistes, singers, musicians and others who used to live by entertaining people in the nightlong shows in the rural areas,’ said Nasiruddin Yousuff, who has vast experiences of working with traditional artistes.
Shammilita Sanskritik Jote president Ghulam Quddus said government was giving monthly grants of Tk 1,200 to Tk 3,000 only to some destitute artistes across the country. ‘Hundreds of artistes are leading miserable life for poverty and giving up practising art,’ Quddus said.
Dhaka University’s fine arts faculty dean and also a folk art researcher Nisar Hossain said, ‘Unplanned urbanisation and rapid scientific developments have appeared as threats to many artistes and art forms in Bangladesh and it has happened in many other countries in the era of globalisation,’
‘But’, Nisar said, ‘Many developed countries like Japan, Korea, China and others have embraced the process of globalisation by giving equal importance to protecting their traditions so that the future generations do not leave their roots.’
‘Even some developing countries such as Bhutan and Nepal are attracting tourists displaying their traditional arts in heritage sites,’ he said.
It did not, however, happen in Bangladesh as the government never took the matter seriously, researchers said adding that the government just framed plans and policies but did not execute them.
No guidelines for creating alternative sources of income stated in the National Culture Policy 2006 were executed in the past one decade.
The policy, however, suggested that finance ministry, cultural affairs ministry, tourism ministry and social welfare ministry could create integrated programmes for generating income of artistes and artisans at the heritage sites to attract tourists.
‘The government could not even capitalise the funds offered by UNESCO and other donors for safeguarding traditional art forms and artistes,’ said Nisar Hossain.
The government has never sought support from UNESCO for safeguarding any art forms, though UNESCO offers financial and technical support for safeguarding intangible cultural heritages of the countries those ratified Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage 2003.
Criticising the government’s ‘lengthy reviewing and approval process’, UNESCO Dhaka office in the progress report of an ongoing $200,000 project titled ‘Strengthening National Capacities for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage for Sustainable Development in Bangladesh’, states that the office had to extend deadline of the project by six months from March 2018 to September 2018 as it had to start the project almost a year late for dillydally of government officials.
UNESCO Dhaka is supervising the project, funded by Azerbijan government, which has been implemented by Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy.
Earlier, Japanese-Funds-in-Trust did not continue funding due to poor outcome of a $67,800 pilot project for safeguarding Baul Songs executed through Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy.
Though the project continued for three years from December 2008 to December 2010, many elderly Bauls like Osman Fakir said they did not know about the project.
‘I don’t know what UNESCO is all about,’ said the 70-year-old Baul from Meherpur.
In every UNESCO conferences, the government faces criticism with regard to complying with basic obligations UNESCO’s ICH Convention, said Nisar Hossain, from his experience of attending UNESCO’s conference with government delegation in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in 2016.
Though Bangladesh ratified the convention in 2009, it still lacked complete data on the number of music genres, instruments, fine and performing arts and other ICH elements and their practicing communities and artistes, Nisar said.
He blames lack of coordination and unhealthy competition among agencies concerned such as Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, Bangla Academy, Bangladesh National Museum, Bangladesh Folk Arts and Crafts Foundation, all of which want to get sole authority of safeguarding cultural heritages.
‘Government officials seem more interested to take part in seminars and workshops abroad and making projects for own benefits,’ folklore researcher Mustafa Zaman Abbasi said.
‘Artistes or artisans never got benefits from any project initiated for preserving the tradition,’ Abbasi added.
Cultural affairs minister Asaduzzaman Noor, however, rejected all these criticisms and said everything was going smoothly.
He, however, admitted that the government was facing problems taking effective programmes to safeguard cultural heritages for lack of fund and expertise.
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