Can the Behrupiya community stop hiding behind the masks forced upon them?

Written by Vidya Bhushan Rawat | Published on: January 25, 2019

Why should Behrupiyas promote Brahmanical values which insult them? Behrupiyas must get benefits from government schemes. Old people must get a government pension. They must be honourably rehabilitated and their children must get a quality education.

The Behrupiya community of Rajasthan lives on the margins of society. They have been insisting I meet them for a very long time. They say that they can’t carry on with their traditional occupation of acting and playing characters on stage as it has not given them anything. “We want to educate our children so that they too can get some job,” said one of them. I got an opportunity to meet some of the community members in Dausa recently.
I did not know what the program was about. One of the community members invited me so I reached there to find that two other people from Delhi are coming too. There were two 'leaders' from the local ‘Brahmin Mahasabha.’ Once the Delhi ‘patrons’ arrived, the program started. Two women came from Delhi and one of them immediately picked up the mic and started pontificating. “Your art is dying. There are many commercial activities and money involved. We will make a project for you. You should unite and work with the government. We will talk to the government to give you work like ‘Beti Bachao campaign, Swachch Bharat Abhiyan’ so that you can develop your art. Your traditional art must not die,” the woman from Delhi said.
The Brahmin Sabha leader was next and she spoke about how they would work for the community. He said, “I am saddened to hear that you have to pay to organise your meeting at this place. If you had informed me earlier, I would have got it free of cost. We would like the government to make a Behrupiya Board to protect your art. These days, big artists are getting crores of rupees but you are not being paid even Rs. 500. We will ask the government to protect your art.”
As the leader finished, the community leaders began welcoming them with flowers and garlands. The Brahman Samaj leader got a local TV channel with him. He suggested that these people must immediately give a memorandum to the collector. “I have spoken to the collector, kindly go and submit your memorandum.” Afterwards, he started giving his byte to the ‘channel’ with the community crowd surrounding him as if the government is making some important announcement.
In this whole exercise of people pleasing, community leaders actually forgot that I too had come from Delhi, specifically to meet them and it is they who had invited me. There were some people in the public who were unhappy with the proceedings so far. They felt that the issues of the community were not discussed and were disappointed. Shamshad, the person who had invited me, was not in the picture and was roaming around Sharmaji. Suddenly, his father, who knew me and felt disturbed by my inability to speak, called me to take the mic. “Please come, listen, we have an important guest from Delhi to speak,” he said.
As people gathered, I said that many issues of the community have not been discussed. “I have no issue if some people want to help you make some 'project' but community development is not a project. It is much bigger,” I said and asked about how many in the community work in any of the government services? Not a single one, they said in unison.
“How many of you have your own land?” I asked again.
Not a single, came the answer.
Do you know why are you insulted? I asked.
“It is the caste, the jaati, which you are born in. The Muslims do not consider you Muslim and the Hindus don’t acknowledge you as Hindus. They don’t mix up with you. Don’t give you water to drink and you make a mockery of yourself to massage their egos and I am sad that none of these issues was spoken about,” I said.
The art that they want to preserve does not give them enough money for two meals.
I have no issues with community developing art or cultural organisations and getting government support but can it be at the cost of the community's self-respect? A community, which has illiteracy rate above the national average, which is thoroughly landless, jobless and without any representation at any level and is a completely dis-empowered, needs government protection and help, apart from its own solutions.
I asked this question to people. Why shouldn't there be a DM, SP, teachers, Darogas, even peons from the community? Why should the community be engaged only in their traditional occupation which is nothing but an insult to their dignity? How can you call it art when it humiliates you just to keep the feudal lords entertained?
The Savarnas have 10% reservation, I said. They used to mock reservation. Now this government says that a Savarna person earning Rs 8 lakh p.a is 'poor' but it is not ready to give Behrupiyas any reservation, who, whether you take economic criteria or caste criteria, are absolutely poor.
I told the community that they will be at the mercy of others if they do not mobilise and assert themselves politically. We raise a slogan in Uttar Pradesh. 'Jiska mudda uski ladai, jiski ladaai uski aguwaai.’ The issues of the community must be raised by them and the leadership must emerge from the struggling communities. You cannot have 'vote hamara raj tumhara' system anymore. We must ask for a representation of the community at every possible level. Why shouldn’t they have space in jobs, in panchayats if not in Vidhan Sabha or Lok Sabha?
And as I spoke about ‘reservation,’ the Delhi ‘patrons’ got highly upset. The local 'patrakar' was taking the interview. The woman said that ‘reservation’ will not help. “We are kalakars, artists and we are respected through our art. We must work with the government and all our issues will be resolved.”
I was just smiling. I played my role. “Why is reservation 'political' and 'bad' for Behrupiyas but a ‘great’ idea when announced for the Savarnas? The community was happy that someone spoke about the raging issues. They came and talked to me. My message was clear. Why should you not seek your rights? You are allowed to remain artists but even artists are made members of Parliament and nominated. But remember that art too has jaati. The same art performed by Brahmins makes them internationally visible but not you.
Several of these artists have travelled abroad and performed internationally but back home in their village, they are isolated and marginalised both socially and economically and it’s because they do not have a 'Sharma' name behind them.
We hope our friends in Rajasthan will fight for the rights of this community and provide them with some back up so that they stand on their own. They can do wonders but they need to feel like equal citizens. And humiliating your own self to massage the egos of the feudal Rajputs and Brahmins is not art but begging. It must change. Their talent must be used for a mass awakening of Bahujan communities. They can definitely do that if theatre people take interest in them.
Why should Behrupiyas promote Brahmanical values which insult them? Behrupiyas must get benefits from government schemes. Old people must get a government pension. They must be honourably rehabilitated and their children must get a quality education. Youths must get jobs while the community gets representation at political levels to raise their own issues and not through some patrons.