Many of them are elderly, and feel betrayed by the government’s ‘inhumane’ approach.
Jayarama Rao’s home in No. 99, Asiad Village, is all but empty. Earlier this week, he moved most of his belongings to his son’s house in Green Park.
“I can’t bear it if the forces throw me out,” said Rao, a renowned Kuchupudi dancer.
There’s a sense of tension in the area, originally developed as accommodation for athletes for the 1982 Asian Games. Of the 853 flats, 27 were allotted to artists – many of them Padma Shri awardees or holding national awards in dance, music and theatre – in 1985, officially for a period of three years, though this was extended multiple times.
Some stayed until their deaths, some moved out. Approximately 12 still called Asiad Village their home – until this week.
In 2020, Newslaundry had reported on how several of these artists were told to vacate their government-allotted homes. The government had cited “irregularities” and most of the artists were taken by surprise, especially in the middle of the pandemic.
Now, over the past week, the central government has reiterated that the artists must vacate. On April 26, Odissi guru Mayadhar Raut, who is 90 years old, was evicted from his house in the village. According to reports, his possessions – including his 2010 Padma Shri certificate – were piled on the pavement.
Those left behind are worried. At least five artists in Asiad Village told Newslaundry they were making “temporary arrangements” to leave.
Jayarama Rao, who lives in the village with his wife Vanishree Rao, also an eminent Kuchipudi dancer, told Newslaundry the directorate of estates met him on April 28 and said, "You should vacate by May 3. On May 4, your belongings will also be thrown out.”
At least five artists in Asiad Village said they were making 'temporary arrangements' to leave.
"These are the words from an officer,” said Bharati Shivaji, a Mohiniattam dancer who lives in Asiad Village. “We are shocked.”
“My wife and I have performed for the Indian government many times for a modest compensation,” said Rao. “When we are bringing fame to the artform and the country, it is shocking that the government treats us so nastily.”
He added, “As artists have no steady income, owners are unwilling to rent us a place. Bankers deny house loans. We are in the dark. I haven’t found permanent accommodation yet.”
The Raos were allotted their house in 1987 for a period of three years, which was subsequently extended. Like other artists in the village, they received eviction notices from the directorate of estates in 2014. They then met with representatives from the culture ministry, who extended their stay once more.
“We received another notice in 2020,” Rao said, “after which we took the matter to court.”
In February this year, a single judge bench of the Delhi High Court dismissed their pleas and directed them to vacate their residences in two months. On April 4, another high court bench refused to grant the artists more time, saying: “We are putting you on caution. Be mindful that the order will come with heavy costs. The single judge has already granted you two months. The single judge was more than benevolent.”
On April 27, the Delhi High Court dismissed Mayadhar Raut’s appeal against his eviction.
“We were pinning our hopes on the court case,” said Ustad Kamal Sabri, a sarangi maestro who lives in Asiad Village. “The plea was dismissed only on April 27. Considering it, shouldn’t we be given more time?” He described the situation as “painful and disheartening”.
Rao said, “When the Indian government does so much for sportsmen by ensuring their job security, why are we ignored? When I came to Delhi in 1968, no other dance forms except for Kathak and Bharatanatyam were known. Now, people are interested in Kuchipudi and I am certain to have contributed to it.”
The government’s policy to allot houses to artists began in 1985. The culture ministry recommends names to the ministry of housing and urban affairs. The criteria is the artist should have contributed nationally or internationally, and earns less than Rs 3,000 per month, according to Paritosh Tomar, a lawyer with L&L Partners who is fighting the eviction case on behalf of 11 artists in Asiad Village.
According to Tomar, the culture ministry issued fresh guidelines in November 2008, stipulating that artists eligible for housing must be between 40 and 60 years of age with an income not exceeding Rs 20,000 a month. They should also not own a plot in the national capital region.
The final decision for an allotment is taken by a selection committee under the culture ministry.
In 2011, as per the selection committee’s advice, the ministry of culture decided to review the guidelines again. “But they never reached a conclusion regarding the fresh guidelines,” Tomar said. “In November 2020, the cabinet committee decided to cancel the allotments issued to the artists without consulting them.”
As of February 2022, the government has still not submitted its fresh guidelines, Tomar said, despite the artists filing a case in the Delhi High Court two years before.
Seema Subbanna says she’s been making calls to property owners to find a new home.
Bharati Shivaji told Newslaundry she’s been given time till May 3 to vacate. Shivaji, who is a recipient of the Padma Shri and the Sangeet Natak Akademi award, said she was horrified by the way Mayadhar Raut was evicted.
“The estate officials pulled away the table on which Guru was having his lunch,” she said. “Their approach is just inhumane. My mother is 98 years old. It could have happened to my family too.”
Shivaji added, “In 2014, we had the honour of accompanying the prime minister on his goodwill visit to Japan and Southeast Asian countries. So, did the government allow an illegal occupant on the tour? We were not aware they came out with a policy to cancel our allotments. Only when we received the eviction notice in 2020 did we know about it.”
Seema Subbanna, whose husband KR Subbanna is an artist and former chairman of Lalit Kala Academy, told Newslaundry she’s been making calls to property owners to find a new home.
“My husband has been bedridden for six and a half years now. It is challenging to find a home in the next two days,” she said. “I have always been a huge Modi fan. With all this happening, I feel embarrassed that this government is not focusing on art and culture.”
However, an official from the estate office, which falls under the housing ministry, told Newslaundry, on condition of anonymity, that “multiple notices” were sent to the artists since 2014.
“We had to forcefully evict Guru Mayadhar Raut’s family as they were not complying with the court order,” the official said.
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