NEW DELHI: The vagrant musician, belting out yesteryears Bollywood numbers or screeching a bhajan or qawwali in a strong nasal tone is part and parcel of train travel in India. But soon songs from Raja Hindustani or Tum To Thehre Pardesi may have to make way for numbers extolling Swachh Bharat, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao and the government’s other initiatives.
For some it may beggar belief, but the government is planning to train some 3,000 beggars to sing much like the bards of yore about its signature plans on local trains in major cities with a view to popularise them among urban commuter folk.
Drafting in beggars is the ministry of information and broadcasting’s latest idea to make the common man more aware of the government’s various schemes.
The project is being anchored by the ministry’s Song and Drama Division and All India Radio has been asked to work out the operation of the project, including the training of beggars.
Officials said the pilot project will begin in Mumbai next month and will be taken to other cities in phases. “Our field publicity reports show that the number of such beggars in the Mumbai’s suburban trains is high and that there are entire families singing and begging for money. Many of them are experienced singers. We are looking at this as a livelihood opportunity. This is a better way to use their abilities,” one official said, adding that the government will take help from non governmental organisations (NGOs) and experts to implement this project.
The ministry’s concept note on the project says a “remuneration model” is being worked out for the singers. “They would not need to beg any more. We are working on the logistics of building an incentive model,” said an official, adding that the project idea was discussed among representatives of the government’s media units last month and is being worked out now with field publicity officials, starting with identification of the potential recruits and arranging their training.
Officials said children will not be recruited for this campaign and sonneteers in media units are working on creating songs for the promotion programmes.
This project is part of the government’s efforts under minister Arun Jaitley to revamp all its media units, with a special focus on field publicity. Recently, the ministry initiated programmes to involve local theatre groups and magicians to showcase the government’s achievements in its first year in office.
The publications division of the government is in the process of bringing out books that talk about the various efforts taken by the government to reach the masses. “The government’s first priority is to ensure every citizen in the country knows about its schemes, achievements and efforts made to change their lives. Not every one has the time to watch TV or read newspapers. The singing musician on the train reaches out to several commuters in a day and hence, is the best person to take the government’s message to the people,” an official added.
Among experts the jury is out on the propriety and the efficacy of using beggars in such a fashion. While some feel using musician-beggars in government propaganda is akin to exploiting their vulnerability, some laud the project and say the effort should be encouraged.
“The method is innovative and while the implementation and effectiveness of the project is challenging, the idea seems to rehabilitating beggars and also give them a means of livelihood. Of course there is a sense of propaganda about it, but unless there is coercion there seems nothing wrong about it,” said Santosh Desai, an author and social commentator.
“If the talent of these people can be tapped by commercial players to advertise their products, what is wrong with the government doing it?” he asked.
~As published in Economic Times