In the remote interiors of Birbhum district, the presence of prominent leaders is not enough to attract crowds during a rally.
In these regions political parties summon the likes of 69-year-old Hirulal Choudhury Byadh to woo potential voters during election campaigns.
It is 5am in Bishoipur village and Hirulal is applying purple colour on his face. His eyes are neatly lined in white and black. During a Trinamool Congress rally, he will be performing ‘Mortine dance’, which aims to spread awareness about malaria prevention.
Welcome to the shrinking world of Bohurupi, the traditional folk artistes of Bengal. In the lead up to the upcoming state polls, Bohurupis have become an integral part of TMC’s campaign, performing skits to attract crowds during the party’s rallies.
Through their performances, the artistes try to sell the benefits of the ruling party’s schemes to the crowd. At some rallies they dress up as school teachers and inform the villagers about the Kanayashree scheme (welfare scheme for girls), while at others they stage a dance to depict how school students have received bicycles under the Sabuj Sathi scheme.
While the Bohurupis might be able to change TMC’s fortunes, their own condition remains desolate. On a good day, a Bohurupi manages to earn just about Rs 120. The custodians of the dying art are struggling to make ends meet.
As part of a state government scheme, these artistes are entitled to identity cards, Rs 1,000 honorarium every month and four programs that would fetch them another Rs 4,000. However, only a few have been able to reap these benefits.
Ironically, the scheme has in turn added to the community’s struggles. “Earlier people used to give us money, as well as puffed rice and wheat if they enjoyed a skit. Now they think we are earning Rs 5,000 a month so they are not giving us anything,” said 28-year-old Prasanta Choudhury Byadh.