Artists in distress
THE situation faced by Alamgir, considered by many as the pioneer of Pakistani pop music, is shared by several of the country’s artists. Diagnosed with kidney disease some years ago, he told journalists at the Karachi Arts Council on Monday that it had been difficult for him to raise money for treatment. While insurance paid for the bulk of the cost of the transplant he requires, meeting the full sum required the intervention of the Sindh governor: the man who delighted audiences here and abroad since the ’70s was given $50,000. Alamgir has been luckier than most. Across the country there are scores of artists — musicians, folk dancers, actors, singers, painters and craftsmen — who, after having devoted their lives to entertaining and educating in aesthetics less talented citizens, find themselves facing sickness and old age without state support. Where aid has been forthcoming, it has been piecemeal and based on whimsy or the largesse of one wealthy individual or the other.
That situation, encouragingly, appears set to change. Last year, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced the establishment of a federal government Artists’ Welfare Fund with seed money of Rs200m. A gazette notification in this regard has already gone out, and the fund’s board comprises ex officio members as well as seniors from the arts’ field and government functionaries. At a meeting held last week, chaired by Cabinet Secretary Nargis Sethi, the bulk of the terms of reference of the fund were worked out and it was decided that priority would be given to artists in distress for medical or other reasons. The process of making the fund fully functional should be expedited. To those in need of support, each day counts. The government’s commitment to and respect for the arts needs to translate to funds disbursed and support lent in real terms.