The same time last year, folk artistes in Tamil Nadu would have been busy wearing make-up with sinuous clothes, vivid red lipsticks, winged eyeliners and shades of blushers. Many temples in the state host festivals in the Tamil months of Maasi and Panguni (February-April), and artistes performing dances like Karakattam, Poikkaal Kuthirai, Oyilattam earn a living out of them.
But this year, they are doubtful of even their next meal as the country has come under a lockdown due to COVID-19. Now, government is their last hope.
Madukkur Ramalingam, writer and state president (in-charge) of Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers and Artists Association, says Tamil Nadu Folk Artistes Welfare Board should come to the rescue of the artistes.
“There are around five lakh folk artistes in the state. During the peak season between March and June, many artistes travel to villages and perform there for a couple of days,” he says.
Now, they can neither go to other villages nor perform in their own villages. So, the welfare board should provide financial assistance to all artistes, without any disparity between the registered and unregistered, he says.
Some people have come forward to help the folk artistes and Lalitha Ram, a music enthusiast, connects them. He says freelancers are affected more than professional artistes.
“Most of the folk artistes live in villages. Some play instruments at nearby temples and get paid every day. But as temples are shut due to the lockdown, they are impecunious,” he says. Ram has created a database of affected artistes and provided around 50 members with ₹5,000 each from the money collected across country.
Another group of people touched by the lockdown is transpersons. Many of them are into begging on trains and bus terminals. As the public transportation has come to a halt, their only means of earning has taken a hit.
Besides these financial troubles, many transpersons are physically affected too, says Sudha, a transgender-rights activist based in Chennai.
“Due to sex reassignment surgeries, eight out of 10 transwomen suffer ailments like diabetes in later years. Their earnings will only be enough to buy medicines,” she says.
As transpersons visit specific private hospitals or clinics, they are reluctant to go to government hospitals, as they fear social stigma. “Using this opportunity, private hospitals and doctors start exploiting them,” says Sudha.
A transwomen Sudha knows has stocked up diabetic medicines for next four months. “The lockdown has created such a level of panic in the community” she says.
Earlier, transpersons used to live in a group of 20 at one place. But as the stigma attached to them is receding, three to eight members have started living in a house and share their earnings.
“If they find it difficult to survive in Chennai, they leave for other cities like Mumbai as they have a strong support network. But as the lockdown is nationwide, they cannot step out,” Sudha says.
Tamil Nadu government provides transpersons a shelter and food. “But only 20 to 25 transwomen can stay there. What about others across the state?”, asks said. Due to some volunteers, police personnel and celebrities from Kollywood, the transgenders in Chennai are safe to an extent, she says.