The Artist Social Support System (ASSS) contains some bizarre requirements for artists to be eligible for help
In 2021, a video of renowned Seraiki poet Shakir Shujaabadi being pushed in a wheelchair to a doctor for treatment went viral after being posted on social media. Usman Buzdar, the then chief minister of Punjab, came under fire from the pubic for doing nothing to support the area’s well-known poet. To quiet the media critic, Buzdar’s administration did what governments everywhere do: it provided Shujaabadi with Rs 500,000 in cash support. He was also given free medical care.
In the days that followed, the government debated a plan to aid struggling artists, and the debate led to the creation of the Artist Support Fund, a funding programme for the welfare of artists in all branches of the fine arts. The Punjab government intended to award “Artist Khidmat Cards” to worthy artists in the province as part of the initiative.
Cholistani folk musician Mohan Bhagat says, “Thank you for the support, but it’s a peanut, and I’m even embarrassed to accept it.” As of now, 2,500 artists from the fields of film, television, radio, theatre, music, dance, painting, calligraphy, sculpture, and technical fields like editors, sound recorders, lightmen, cameramen, stuntmen, and makeup artists have signed up for the scheme’s monthly stipend, which is just Rs 5,000 per artist.
The caretaker administration, on the other hand, has studied the issue and begun restructuring the assistance funds.
According to Punjab’s information secretary, Ali Nawaz Malik, “We’ve begun auditing the Artist Social Support System (ASSS), and soon the initiative will be transformed into an authority-level institution.”
The objective is to increase the stipend since the government recognises that Rs 5,000 is shamefully little for an artist to receive.
Before, an annual budget of Rs 80 million was allocated to the ASSS project.
According to Malik, “We’ve proposed the government to increase funds from Rs80 million to Rs3 billion so that artists are given sufficient funds for an honourable subsistence level.”
He also remarked that the fund’s disbursement would be controlled by the proposed authority, which would be established as the Artist Support Authority.
The current assistance programme contains some bizarre requirements for artists to be eligible for help. For instance, the candidate must be older than 50 and the artist must have at least 25 years of relevant experience in the fine arts. If their monthly income is less than Rs 15,000, they can only be eligible for the help (Rs 5,000).
The next consideration is domicile: the artist must be a resident of any city of Punjab province. Two colour pictures, a copy of the CNIC, documentation of experience in a similar sector, and evidence of current income must all be submitted by the applicant.
Iqbal Pathanay Khan, the son of venerable Seraiki folk musician Pathanay Khan, says, “After reading the standards for qualifying for the help, I never dreamed of asking for government-generated aid.”
Mohan Bhagat said that even he struggled with document collection.
Dr Rizwan Safdar, an associate professor of sociology at Punjab University, believes that the government must support artists while maintaining their self-respect.
“The government should assist artists in projecting their work; once it finds the correct audiences, money will come.”
Dr Safdar’s suggestion is welcomed by Ali Nawaz, who adds that the government is considering giving artists access to technological resources so they may make high-quality work and sell it effectively.
For instance, “Artists may be encouraged in e-marketing and facilities can be constructed for them to produce their work free of charge.”
The organizer of the annual Pathanay Khan Music Festival in Kot Addu city of south Punjab, Iqbal Pathanay Khan, believes the government’s goals look excellent on paper.
“Executions mean a lot; my father gained an enormous fan following in the corridors of power throughout the administrations of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Ziaul Haq, yet he remained in poverty till his passing.”
Iqbal Pathanay Khan once planned to sell the awards bestowed upon his father for his achievements, but he was unable to do so due to pressure from various civil society organizations.
Ali Nawaz Malik is hopeful that the proposed body would aid in resolving the problems facing artists. “We have launched the ASSS project audit on the interim chief minister’s orders, Mohsin Naqvi. Eliminating the undeserving individuals from the recipient list is the first major responsibility. We’ll attempt to reach out to the deserving artists later with a somewhat reasonable payment,” he says.
A cheque for Rs 5,000 is obviously not respectable considering the inflation rate, which reached 44 per cent by the time our story went to press. – Ends