By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*
The Bahurupiyas are one of the most marginalised communities in India. They are engaged in life performances and depend on the patronage of the powerful in the villages. In the olden times, the Rajas and Maharajas patronised them as they would massage their ego. They act on impersonation but it is not to dupe any one but to perform. One day he becomes a Salim or Jahapana Akbar while other day he could be a majnoo or a Seth or a priest. I would call them ‘theatre artists’. Every day, they are on a new role and earn through begging.
If you watch them or listen to them, you will realise how they created various performances to keep their patrons happy. This is their traditional occupation. In Rajasthan the contemtuous term used for them was Bhand, which is an untouchable caste, though most of them would deny that they ever face untouchability or caste discrimination in the villages yet it is a reality that their art is nothing but to keep their ‘patrons’ happy, They would glorify them and laugh at themselves.
Traditional art forms were degraded for some communities but it was their source of livelihood. Today, they remain even at the margins of Dalit politics. None care for them. Interesting part is that Bahurupiyas adopt all kinds of names. Hence a father could sound like Hindu name Shiv Raj or Surendra while the son is Shamshad. They keep roza as well as navratri fasts. They celebrate all the festivals yet they have not been embraced by neither Hindus nor Muslims.
The community of Bahurupiyas are based in Bandikui town of district Dausa in Rajasthan. I was invited by the community in January 2019 to discuss their issues of jobs, housing, land and inclusion. Unfortunately, netas want to use them for their votes but not keen to help them uplift with dignity.
In Bandikui, I had a candid discussion with Subhrati Bahurupiya and Babu Khan. Both discussed in detail their plight and future. They had been performing live for decades. Subhrati or Shivraj, as he was mostly known during his performance, was suffering from cancer. He says that he never got any support from the government even when on behalf of the Ministry of Culture, he had gone to perform in Europe and many other countries. He questioned why he should ask his children to engage in this work when they can’t make two time meals.
The conversation of mine in the video below is with Babu Khan and Subhrati. They are brothers and their children too are engaged in cultural work. They go to villages to earn their money and depend mostly on Savarna patronage. I am sharing this conversation in hope that people will understand the plight of the wonderful community which is thoroughly dispossessed and disempowered and need our support to live a life with dignity.
Subhrati Bahurupiya passed away on July 3rd, 2019 at the age of 65.
*Human rights defender