Subhadra Baulani* is a voice that refused to be silenced. She was hailed as a nightingale when she learnt to mimic the songs her brothers sang, but was forbidden to sing in public because of existing social norms and was packed off in marriage as a child. Her husband encouraged her to pursue her inner call and stood steadfast, even as society ostracized her for her musical ways, her audience greeted her with catcalls, fellow artists tried to stifle her song and Gurus sought undue favours to take her under their folds. All this, when she did not have a roof over her head to call home and poverty was the only constant in life.
But Subhadra’s resolve was as firm as her song. Today, with a little help from AFL, the same Subhadra who had not ventured out of the confines of her district has stormed the male bastion, mesmerized global audiences and created an example for other women to follow. She has a house of her own (with toilets to boot), a steady stream of visitors to meet and greet, a school of students who revere her and above all, a village full of neighbors whose respect she has earned – her music refusing to do the Swan Song as ordained by the elders and embracing her detractors in the truest spirit of inclusive development.
But what is even more commendable is the fact that today Subhadra is the most acknowledged exponent of the “Mahajani Pada” which she has presented before spellbound audiences in Japan, Syria, France and Bangladesh apart from winning innumerable hearts in various parts of India many times over. She has already trained 17 Bauls, 5 of them being women in a lilting and soulful protest against the oppression she was subjected to.
*Baulani is a woman Baul. Bauls are minstrels who believe that love for humanity is the way to achieve the divine and their songs propound this philosophy. Bauls advocate an alternate/de-institutionalized religious philosophy and live in a free society. This sect originated around 500 years back.
banglanatak dot com is a social enterprise headquartered at Kolkata and working across India for fostering pro-poor growth using culture based approaches. Since 2005 its flagship initiative Art for Life (AFL) has fostered socioeconomic empowerment and social inclusion of more than 10000 families in West Bengal, a state in eastern India. Art for Life has codified the process of transforming traditional art and craft skills into professional expertise. AFL has supported revival of traditional art forms and provided the artists with access to new audiences and hitherto unknown markets. Sustained interventions leading to revitalization of art and craft skills, common capacity creation, building of artists’ organisation, promotional rejuvenation and creation of direct market linkages have helped grassroots enterprises to thrive, which has created in its wake, art led ecosystems of economic development. The hitherto marginalized communities have started participating in the development process. The process has resulted in gender equality, improved school attendance for children, health and sanitation. The larger community has benefitted from promotion of responsible cultural tourism.