Despite a rich tradition of performing arts, Indian cities don’t seem to take kindly to street performers and their craft. This is especially true in Bengaluru where busking, the act of performing in public places for voluntary donations, is not allowed by the cops, though there is no formal law against the same.
Recently, Vidhur Singh, a Bengaluru-based artiste studying in Delhi, was shooed away by cops in the middle of his performance on Church Street. His crime? Being a ‘public menace by performing in a public space’.
Forcibly evicted though people had no problem
Vidhur was here on vacation and took to busking to earn money for his first album.
“Most of the time, the cops don’t even tell me why they are chasing me away. They just say that they have orders from above and that they can’t let me perform,” he says. Having performed in all metros, he notes that the scene is the same everywhere.
Vivek, a 30-year-old IT professional who quit his job to pursue music, has had similar experiences on the city’s streets.
“I quit my job to realise my passion for music, joined a group of buskers and started performing on the streets. We have performed thrice and been shooed away twice by cops. This happened in Koramangala and Viveknagar,” says Vivek.
What made it more surprising is that though the cops touted them as a public nuisance, the people standing there were appreciating their performance and asking them to continue
Some cops appreciate these performances
Bengaluru-based theatre practitioner Chandra Keerti has been performing street plays for many years but has never faced any such incidents. “We always take police permission prior to our performance to be on the safer side,” he says.
Brinda Vikram, another city-based theatre artiste, says that some policemen stop by during their street plays and ask them about the theme and more.
“A lot of them are happy about the awareness we are creating. One of the policemen had actually asked if we can do a street play on ‘road violence and traffic’ and perform the same all over the city. He also promised that he would help us get permissions from higher authorities, “says Brinda.
Balance civic sense and artistic expression
Singer Vasu Dixit says that there are two sides to busking. “Artistic freedom is necessary, but it is important to ensure the public isn’t disturbed. The performance is a no-no if it is causing a nuisance in any way,” he says.
It is better if someone performs for a few minutes and then moves on. “Performing for hours together might gather a big crowd. In a place like Bengaluru, with its traffic problems, this can cause a mess,” he adds.
He adds that busking is easier in western cities as the government gives a license to street performers and allots them slots in subways, metros and other places to perform.
No restricting laws but better to take permission
Trivikram S, advocate in High Court of Karnataka, clarifies that busking is not illegal; not just in India, but any country. It is better to take permission though. If it is a residential area, permissions need to taken from BBMP. If it’s a commercial area, then it comes under the local police control.
“If buskers perform without permissions, there are many provisions in the IPC which they can be booked under if they are causing a nuisance to the public. The punishment can vary from an hour of jail term to three years, depending on the charges slapped on them,” says Trivikram.
‘It is for the good of the people’
P Harishekaran, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic) says public spaces cannot be given to a person who wants to perform art. “India does not have concept of busking as of now. We restrict them from performing on streets keeping the public good in our minds,” he says.
“Looking at the state Bengaluru is in right now, such acts will only add to the chaos. If you have any such places in mind where people can perform without causing a menace, do tell us and we shall look into it,” he adds.
‘Just following orders from the top’
A traffic cop, who did not want to be named, told Metrolife that they had received a memo from higher officers about activities which inconvenienced the public, busking was one among them.
For artistes, busking gives confidence
Street performer Vidhur admits performing in front of random strangers has helped him gain confidence. “It helps me with my stage fright and also gives me confidence. I want people to enjoy my music and help me if they find me good enough,” he adds.