[AI] Most beggars singing in trains are trained in music: Study

avinash shahi shahi88avinash at gmail.com
Fri Jul 3 02:41:37 PDT 2015

How interesting,isn't it?

You do not have to be a frequent local-train traveller in Mumbai to
encounter people who beg in exchange of a devotional song, a qawwali
or a melodious Bollywood number. While most of them are physically
challenged, some just take up the practice out of sheer poverty. But a
recent study reveals that many of these beggars are also musically
trained or belong to families that have been practising music for
generations together.

The study was undertaken by Swaradhar, a group of youngsters working
towards providing dignity to people singing in trains since 2012. The
group of four researchers interviewed 22 persons who perform on the
central, western and eastern railway lines to earn a living.

Of them 22 interviewed over the last one year, 16 have finished
various levels of classical musical training, with one possessing a
Visharad degree, which is equivalent to graduation. Eleven of these
singers are visually-challenged having undergone training during
schooling, Swaradhar members said.

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“We want people to identify them as artistes and not beggars,” said
Nikita Tiwari, a Swaradhar member and researcher. “It is amazing to
see the command that the artistes have on music. If given better
opportunities, they can shine on the stage. We have been striving for
the same,” Tiwari said, adding that the group had organised more than
20 shows in various Ganpati mandals in the last three years.

The study is a part of the one-year fellowship programme offered by
PUKAR, a city-based urban research collective.

During their research, the group met many performers who were being
tagged as beggars only because they sang in local trains. “The same
people, if performing on stage would have been called maestros. Their
family conditions have pushed them to take up this profession,” said
Mayur Pethad, a Swaradhar member.

One of the interviewees, 32-year-old Chetan Patil, has completed four
years of the seven-year rigorous course in music. Patil, who has been
playing “dholak” for the last eight years on the central line
stretching from Karjat to Fort, earns about Rs 500 everyday.

“I did try to get a job in the private sector but I failed. Even if
people say that I can use my talent for stage performances, one cannot
be assured of getting paid every month,” said Patil who learnt music
at his native Chalisgaon in the Jalgaon district of Maharashtra before
shifting to Mumbai.

The 35-page research paper in Marathi also talks about a performer
from Rajasthan who has been trained by his father in music. Mayur
Pethad, a Swaradhar member, said, “While interviewing him, we also
found out that many of his family members sing in local trains and
they identify themselves as a musical troupe. They do not do anything
else apart from this. The state government is trying to implement a
hawkers policy, but the performers are not even mentioned in it. All
they need is dignity and better opportunities to showcase their

However, the city’s apathy doesn’t seem to deter the people, who
consider it as a profession that can “give them a break” in Bollywood
too. With their sturdy voices and an instrument to lend them support,
they demand to be known as “street performers” or “artistes”.

Avinash Shahi
Doctoral student at Centre for Law and Governance JNU

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