Here in Pakistan, we have a serious love/hate relationship with our artists.
Like most professions where one is in the limelight, you’re here one second and gone the next. We’ve already heard the harrowing tales of TV legends such as Roohi Bano and Munna Lahori living in deplorable conditions with no support from the government or their television fraternity.
Now, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has made the decision to suspend monthly stipends of approximately 500 Pashto singers which include one of our most famous folk singers, Zarsanga, an artist who has received the ‘Pride of Performance’ and ‘Presidential Award’ for her many contributions.
As per a 2018 report by Pakistan Today, the former Chief Minister of Punjab, Shehbaz Shareef introduced the ‘Artist Khidmat Card’ scheme in 2017 under the Information and Culture Department of Punjab and the Punjab Social Protection Authority which come under the Artist Social Support System.
As per the scheme, Pakistani artists, that belong to either Television, radio, film, theatre, dance, painting, music and even the art of calligraphy, with an experience of 25 years were eligible to be issued cards that ensured them monthly stipends of Rs. 5000. Given that they were above the age of 50 and earned less than 15,000 per month. However, the current government has as of yet failed to achieve this scheme.
In a statement, a source revealed that the new government has still not been able to get the project going.
“Mastana, Babu Baral, Reshma, Matloobur Rehman, popularly known as Zakoota Jin, to name a few, are among the poverty-struck talented artists who passed away amid worst living conditions. If the situation prevails, the performing arts industry of Pakistan might meet an unfortunate end,” the source added.
In Khyber Pakhtunkwa however, the situation is no better. As per a report by Naya Daur, musical legend, Zarsanga, who gained mainstream recognition for her beautiful rendition of ‘Rashma Mama’ on Coke Studio Season 11 said, “I am ill. The provincial government has suspended my monthly stipend. Due to the health issues, I am unable to attend most of the private music events. We are living in a miserable situation.”
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government was perhaps the first to recognize the need to support artists of the nation who represent Pakistan in more ways than once as the province sought to allocate a budget for artists back in 2016. a total of 500 artists were selected by the cultural directorate for this special stipend that is undoubtedly their right after a lifelong service to the nation. However, this has appeared to be much harder to implement.
Another renowned artist, Ustad Ahmed Gul had this to say, “I am associated with the music industry from the last 63 year and performed on radio and television. I have dedicated my life to the music industry. I am aged now, but KP government suspended our monthly stipends.”
Musician Ustad Nazir Gul said that it is hard for artists to find work in the region, “We are entertainers. We don’t have any assets property and business; the only thing we have is our art. There is no work in Radio Pakistan Peshawar and the PTV Peshawar Centre. We do not have much private music events too. For the last one year, the government has suspended our stipend.”
A lack of opportunities and a pullback on government support had caused much outrage and the artists have even asked the government to correct this issue in the upcoming budget. However, this is not the first time a setback like this has happened as in late 2018, many artists were denied stipends and received them with a delay.