Theatre artistes in distress as pensions are delayed

Theatre artistes in distress as pensions are delayed

Transfer of responsibility between departments complicated issue

A delay in disbursing pension has left many elderly theatre artistes in dire straits.

The state government gives out a monthly pension of Rs 2,000 to needy theatre artistes above 60, but an official process initiated in May, has ended up delaying the disbursal in the last few months.

Thousands across the state rely on their stage performances to make ends meet. Many Showtime spoke to said they were in no position to look for alternative employment.

“We have been doing theatre all our lives and this is the only work we are familiar with,” says 70-year-old theatre artist Mahadevappa from Vijayapura.

Mahadevappa has not received his pension since March. He has borrowed money for his medicines and for his daily needs. “Before the pandemic broke out, I used to earn between Rs 8,000 and Rs 10,000 a month,” he says.

Babanna Kalmani Kukunoor, 86, lives in Koppal. He has not got his pension for two months, and the delay is pushing him to despair. “I am in no health to go out and work. I have to look after my ailing wife. My children live away from me and I wonder why I should be living,” he says.

The scene is no different in Bengaluru. Seventy one-year-old M C Sundaresh, who has worked for theatre groups for 42 years, says the government should draw up a list of all those in genuine need and provide medical assistance and pensions.

Govt explanation

S Rangappa, director of the department of Kannada and Culture, says pensions for four months — April to July — were given at one go after “thorough verification”.

“Earlier, the payments used to be made from the treasury. The responsibility was handed over to the department of Kannada and Culture in May this year,” he told Showtime.

During verification, he says, the department realised payments were being made to people who are no more. “Imagine Rs 2,000 being regularly sent to 10 people from each district who are no more. It’s a loss of Rs 40,000 for the government every month,” Rangappa says.

“We ask for identity proof and bank details before dispatching pensions. The merger of certain banks also contributed to the delay. Those who have not got it can approach us with the details and we will dispatch their pension along with the arrears,” he says.

However, many artistes say they have been paid only for a month since April, and not for all five months, as claimed by the government. H B Obalesh, who runs Gubbi Veeranna theatre company in Gandhinagar, Bengaluru, has been supporting 25 artistes during the pandemic. “People across the state still watch company drama and the art serves as a livelihood for many,” says Obalesh, who used to take his group out for at least five shows a month.

‘Respect veterans’

Film actor Chetan Ahimsa, who has also been active on the stage, says drama represents “our grassroots creative ethos”. “It has the ability to influence society for good and educate populations forgotten in our educational process,” he told Showtime. Elderly performers who have spent their lives enriching art and culture should be recognised in their later years when work is difficult to come by, he says.

No show

Thirty professional drama companies across Karnataka have lost their livelihood because of the pandemic. Rajanna Jewargi, owner of Vishwa Jyoti Sri Panchakshara Natya Sangha, a drama company based in the north Karnataka town of Jewargi, says, “The artistes have gone back to their villages.” He urges the government to disburse pensions without delay. “Artistes get fewer roles as they get older,” he says.

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