My stay in Mumbai was rather brief—of just about five months. One of the things that has stayed with me from that period was the daily local train commute. There was so much happening on the train, from women chopping vegetables and discussing the market trends with great enthusiasm (breaking all stereotypes), to those, like me, who would just soak in all the sights and sounds.
The one thing that strung all this together was the music that kept wafting
through the compartments. Each day would be a different person or group singing;
at times it would be ghazals in Marathi, while on others it would be
popular Bollywood numbers, those days were the ‘chikni chameli’ days. I remember some singers who had exceptional voice throw and quality.
Hemlata Tiwari did more than merely enjoy the music of these gifted artists.
The 27-year-old brought some street singers together and started a group named Swaradhar.
In this exclusive conversation with The Better India, Hemlata speaks about why she does what she does, the impact that she has created, and the way forward.
The inception of Swaradhar
Almost nine years ago Hemlata boarded the local train on her way to a musical evening. As she got off at the station, two street singers were welcoming the travellers with their musical skill. “They were singing so well that I remember standing there and just listening to them for a while,” recalls Hemlata.
She went ahead with her evening as scheduled. But, it was while she was engrossed with the performance on stage that a thought struck her. “I saw the artists performing on stage, the clothes they were wearing and the paraphernalia that surrounded them. I kept thinking about the two singers I had seen at the station. With a little support and help they would also be able to perform before an audience,” she shares.
While this thought struck her in 2010, it took her almost two years to convince not just people to support her vision but also the singers to come on board and be a part of her initiative.
Thus, Swaradhar came into being in 2012.
“I wanted to somehow provide a better and bigger platform to those who sang at the stations,” she said.
What does Swaradhar do?
The intent behind starting the organisation was to provide a platform for the artists who otherwise would start begging. Hemlata says, “We provide training to the artists who join us; other than training them in the craft we also help groom them, so they can present themselves better.”
The team at Swaradhar performs regularly at various Ganpati pandals, during functions, do stage shows, and are also invited to various television programmes.
This initiative has been able to provide respect and social inclusion to one of the most neglected sections of the society. What it has also done is to give recognition to these ‘artistes’ who until now were called ‘beggars’.
What impact has Swaradhar created?
“Honestly, when we started, we would go from door-to-door requesting artists to join us, and a majority of them declined our offer. From that to having more than 500 artists with us today has been a huge growth for us.”
Swaradhar has conducted more than a hundred shows till now, and Hemlata feels that they have witnessed a shift in how audiences perceive them.
“Everyone told us that working with these ‘beggars’ would not augur well. With each performance, we saw more and more members of the audience coming to us. The artists now have their own identity and are well-respected members of their communities.”
Music giving dignity
36-year-old Chetan Patil, a visually challenged artist with Swaradhar was on the verge of killing himself when he found the organisation that changed his life. Hemlata informs, “His family abandoned him and he had nowhere to go. There was also an instance when the railway police beat him up badly too. He now leads initiatives within the organisation, and is the contact person for many of the sponsorships that we receive.”
For a basic music show involving three artists and the entire music, the setup would cost approximately Rs 35,000- to Rs 45,000 which is then given to the team that performed. “We also have some CSR partners who come on-board and help us. The packages are all usually customised according to what the client needs from us,” she says.
Hemlata is now in Delhi and is working towards ensuring that a similar model is replicated in the capital too.
“I wanted to remove the stigma that these people are labeled with. An artist is an artist, where he comes from should not be the basis of it.”
She leaves us with a compelling thought, “If you wish to be a part of the change then you ought to work at it day-in-and-day-out. Social work cannot be a weekend project that one undertakes.”
To know more about the organisation, you can check their Facebook page here.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)
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