By | 23rd April, 2021


*Srijata Saha Sahoo

Several attempts have been made from the Government level, doctors, scientists to common people to raise awareness on Corona and its fatal power. In that move, the efforts of folk artists of West Bengal should be added also as recently, IIT Kharagpur has tied up with patuas of Naya village to spread awareness on Corona through the medium of scroll art along with songs.  The institute under the project ‘Folk Artists in the Time of Coronavirus’ has taken a novel effort of improvising health communication to a large catchment of the rural population. Prof. Anjali Gera Roy, from the Dept. of Humanities and Social Sciences, engaged with folk artists (Patua) from the Naya village in West Midnapore to hold COVID-19 awareness outreach initiative communicated through visual and musical art forms.

The tradition of creating public awareness programmes started among the Naya Patuas two decades back with a group of women led by Rani Chitrakar performing on the HIV AIDS issue. Prof. Anjali Gera Roy, who has been working with this community, approached a group of Patuas from Naya to create scroll paintings and songs exclusively to promote hygiene habits among the local people around Kharagpur. While the Institute has been organizing relief camps for the distribution of essential items to the underprivileged community, several of the relief recipients were observed to be nonchalant with regards to hygiene habits such as wearing masks or maintaining social distance despite the Institute repeatedly urging the people to follow the health protocols.

Painters like Gurupada Chitrakar, Bahadur Chitrakar, Swarna Chitrakar, Jaba Chitrakar and Sonali Chitrakar composed their songs in local dialects along with scroll paintings in folk art format to help the audience understand the challenges of COVID-19 and best practices to be adhered to. This mode of communication makes scientific information palatable and cognizable to people of various sections of the society, especially in the area of health. The threat perception, precaution and remedies, when communicated in a language hued in cultural connotations, and coming from their social peers, is easier for the local people to connect with and efficacious in their public compliance.

The first performance was organised at the entry gate of the IIT Kharagpur campus. As the relief recipients queued outside the IIT gate, a Patua group from Naya engaged them in an interactive session about COVID-19. They followed it with a performance of songs to pats or scrolls created by the Patuas on the theme. The painters put importance on home warnings about not following lockdown rules and other instructions through their pictures and songs and exhorted the onlookers to fight together to defeat the virus.

As Prof. Anjali Gera Roy remarked, “This form of communication to the underprivileged community has been a tradition and has proven to be effective for ages. We are mulling over organizing more such performances for various sections of the society.”

And Gurupada Chitrakar, a Patua performer puts it as, “We find the medium of songs and pictures more effective than words. When we came to IIT Kharagpur and stood in a line arranging our pats, people began to wonder what on earth they were going to do?  But when we started singing, gradually people listened carefully and wanted to see the pictures and listen to the songs.  Those standing in the queue began to pay attention to whether they were standing too close or lowering their masks even though they know about COVID already.”

It is to be mentioned that recently, IIT Kharagpur conducted a joint exhibition with Gurudev Tagore Indian Cultural Centre (GTICC) Indian Council For Cultural Relations, India In Mexico (Embassy of India, Mexico City) and Ora World Mandala to present an online workshop and symposium titled “Life on Scroll: Lockdown Creativity” by scroll painters and folk artists of India and Mexico. The highlight of this exhibition was a visual representation of COVID-19 in Patua art, short films on Amate and Huichol art and interactions of the Patuas from Naya with the Amate artists and Huichol/Textile painters from Mexico.

Let us hope that the novel efforts of these folk artists pay proper dividends in increasing the awareness on Corona and ultimately help India to completely recover from this deadly menace.

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