Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee


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Taking time-out, leisure, play and, seeking pleasure in leisure time or entertainment is as old an institution of the human civilization as work itself. The Arthashastra (c.300 BC - 150 CE) mentions several government departments related to leisure activities. The text also listed the workers engaged in these activities: courtesans, sex workers, actors, dancers, singers, musicians, story-tellers, bards, acrobats, jugglers and, wandering minstrels. In those days the governments in India bore the expenditure of training the courtesans, sex workers and other entertainers in singing, playing the musical instruments like the Veena , the Flute and, the Mridangam, conversing, reciting, dancing, acting, writing, painting, mind-reading, preparing perfumes and garlands, shampooing and, making love. In all the ancient tribal societies work and play was part and parcel of the ritual proto-religious activities. In the more complex developed religious festivals too work and play remain intertwined, hence also the mass appeal of these festivals. In the earlier societies work had a kind of rhythm punctuated by rest, songs, dances, games and, ceremonies. As societies became more complex the vast majority of working people were robbed of the greater part of their leisure. They either worked or remained unemployed, with hardly any scope or provision for leisure. Leisure then became the privilege mostly of the thin upper layers of the society. As some societies became industrialized, the situation began to change there, for the vast masses of the people.

Leisure and pleasure came to be recognized as basic human needs all over again, this time in the more industrialized west. Some 19th century social thinkers of Europe reasserted the importance of leisure and entertainment in the development of human civilization. Proudhon, Comte and, Marx differed from one another in their understanding of human society and of its future possibilities in many respects, yet all of them stressed the need to ensure leisure through social emancipation and technological progress. They realized that the creation of unalienated complete human being at peace with oneself, with other human beings in the society and, with the rest of the nature requires the overcoming of the prevalent conflict between work and leisure/pleasure/entertainment.

Entertainment/pleasure offers the individual a chance to come out of the fatigue of work/gloom of unemployment that interferes with her/his natural biological/cultural rhythms. Through entertainment, permitted / discouraged / forbidden by society, leisure opens up new real/imaginary worlds beyond the restrictive limits of routine tasks and imposed stereotypes. People are at least psychologically set free to oppose some dominant values of their civilization and/or to reinforce those values that they choose to identify with.

It is a fact of contemporary life that the service sectors are growing at a faster rate. The bosses of the corporate houses as well as investigators of the dynamics of various types of labour have come to realize that the service sector needs ever greater involvement of all the human faculties of labour. This sector especially demands that all the potentials of human labour be utilized in full, that the worker be both motivated and creative. This means that now and in the days to come labour is going to be far more concentrated, the intensity of labour and, of its exploitation in the interests of capital is going to increase.

As labour becomes more concentrated and intensive, human fatigue increases. Workers need more leisure, more relaxation, not merely in their own interests, but also in the interests of their employers, who need them fresh and fully recharged every time they come back to the work site or, even when they are in the work site. Here comes corporate management of workers' leisure. From piped music in the work place, to play zones, to multi-facility entertainment parks and holiday junkets / business-cum-pleasure trips with five star accommodations they have the whole works. The corporate sector came forward with these initiatives for its more valued workers, not from some pro-worker change of heart, not as welfare measures, but as essential measures required for replenishing the quality of labour, for reinvigorating labour.

The realities of leisure and entertainment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries gave rise to some persuasive/prescriptive and descriptive writings. Paul Lafargue wrote the first socialist pamphlet in favor of leisure for the workers: Le droit a la paresse( The Right to be Lazy ) ( 1883 ). The introduction of 8-hour working days created both hopes and anxieties. In 1924 the International Labour Office organized the first international conference on the free time of the worker, attended by 300 delegates from 18 countries. This effort has been followed by empirical investigations in America, Russia and, in the rest of Europe. Hence some cross-cultural/cross-social comparisons of leisure related activities are possible. Leisure has been studied in respect of work, family, religion, politics and other components of human culture. It has been found that in many countries, including our own, the governments and the policy elite are either clueless or beholden to conservative ideas and oppressive unilateral policies that mutilate and distort the multifaceted reality of leisure and entertainment.

This is happening at a time when a recent Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FICCI) survey of the service sector growth trends projects an excellent 20% growth rate in the live entertainment sector, followed by 18% in the films, 16% in TV, 14-15% in cable TV and, 10% in radio. This is happening in an economy that is barely managing an overall 7% growth rate. The FICCI is also crying hoarse over high taxation, duties, licensing fees, security levies and, operating costs that hurt the entertainment sector in India. As always the easiest option open for the lords of our capital is wage reduction. To keep our entertainment sector workers performing at low wages our lords have always worked overtime to keep them divided and disunited. They just divide and rule the workers. In this game of divide and rule, classification is a time tested tool. Just classify the entertainment workers into archaic and modern, classical and folk, polite and crude, adult and non-adult, high caste and low caste and, make sure that the divisions are accepted as permanent and objective, then the workers themselves will guarantee their own disunity at no extra cost to the bosses.

For instance, it is common knowledge that the sex workers entertain their customers and, that their work is a form of intimate entertaining communication involving some very subtle and complex combinations of gesture, language, play and relaxation, yet the ruling social conventions and beliefs in most modern societies fail to concede the status of entertainment workers to the sex workers. It is high time that we put a stop to this hegemony of the ideology of our rulers over our working class consciousness.

Another ancient weapon is stigmatization leading to marginalization. Some of our entertainment sector workers like the sex workers remain socially stigmatized and legally near-criminalized by the immoral Provide Link to go to articles on IT(P)A; recently the dancers working in the bars of Maharashtra have been robbed of their work by an Act passed in the State Legislature, now some folk dancers there are being targeted by declaring them lewd; our traditional dancers and singers ( some of them belonging to some specific castes ) are constantly harassed and persecuted by the upper caste power lords. The Nats of Rajasthan were and still are socially persecuted, in Bengal earlier the Jatra was condemned as obscene entertainment of the commoners not fit for the gentry, now the Bauls are being persecuted by the communal bigots in West Bengal, our banks are shy of treating our film industry as a regular industry and thereby contribute to its criminalization … this list of social and governmental perfidy can go on and on. What is the end result of this long historical castist and governmental policy of divide and rule? Our entertainment workers remain largely dispersed, fragmented, immobilized and disunited.

It is in this situation that we propose that a Union of the Entertainment Workers of India be formed. This Union proposes to unite all the traditional and modern entertainers of our land: the Bauls, Nachanis, Jhumur and Chhou dancers of Bengal, The Nats of Rajasthan, the Tamasha artists of Maharashtra, the Nautanki artists of North India, the Devadasis of Karnataka, all the folk and classical dancers and singers, all musicians, all actors and actresses, the circus artists, sex workers, film and TV workers, all edutainers and infotainers … … This union proposes to be a part of the international movement of the entertainment workers.

The work place in the 21st century seems poised to repeat some features of the 18th century. The 8-hour working day is no longer a norm in most of the existing and emerging sectors. It seems that 12 or more hours have come to stay. Result? More strain, less efficiency, less time for leisure and entertainment, more alienation and downward slide in the quality of labour. Now is the time for a vigorous mass movement demanding the Right to Leisure / Pleasure / Play / Entertainment for all the people and, for safeguarding and enhancing the social, legal, labour and human rights of all the entertainment workers of our country and of the whole world.


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