All-women Madhubani artists wait for their payment after painting Bihar Sampark Kranti Express

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Darbhanga/Kolkata: On August 23, Bihar Sampark Kranti Express was rolled out with immense pride by the Indian Railways. All of its 24 coaches were beautified with Madhubani Paintings or Mithila Art by the hard work of 45 Madhubani artists, all women. What more, their artwork was even appreciated by the United Nations.

However, six months down the line, the artists who made it to the headlines for their work, are yet to receive any payment. Take the example of 20-year-old Anjali Jha, a Madhubani artist who ekes-out-a-living by painting. She was the key artist for the Madhubani Art on train project.

“We were a group of 45 artists who worked on the coaches. I played a key role in making the sketches on all the 20 coaches of the Bihar Sampark Kranti Express. There were two other artists who been hired to do the sketches, but they quit after working on four coaches. Also, most of the artists that were brought in to paint the train coaches were inexperienced,” recounts Anjali, who had stationed in Darbhanga for three months along with other artists to give shape to this venture of the Indian Railways.

She then added, “We have heard that our work has been appreciated by all, but we are yet to receive the payment for our work.” On being asked, about the amount that the contractor would be paying she said, “No fixed pay was decided. We were just told that we would be paid a nice amount by the Indian Railway.”

 

Anjali hails from Milwar, a remote village in Darbhanga, Bihar, she helps her father sustain their six-member-family. On a month that is kind to her, she earns about INR 10000 by painting shawls, sarees or artefacts with the now-much-in-vogue Madhubani art, based on the specification of her clients. Similar is the story of Sapna Roy, from Madhubani’s Pakhraoni village, who also paints to sustain her family needs.

But the life of a rural artist specializing in an art form, which the Indian Railway has adopted, seems to be not so easy. “We generally get work on an ad-hoc-basis. There is no fixed earning for us. So, when we got this opportunity we grabbed it with both our hands,” said Sapna Ray.

Ray further added, “We worked from July till October on this project. The first train with Madhubani Art was launched on August 23, since then we worked on more trains. But it’s almost January and we are yet to get our payments. We had been told that we would be receiving our payment in December, but are yet to get paid.”

On contacting Ashutosh Sahu, the main contractor for the ‘Madhubani Art Train’ said, “I had made some mistake while filling up the forms and then the officials were on leave, hence the delay.” He then paused and added, “Amount that needs to be paid to the 45 odd artists is high. Approximately every artist is to get paid between Rs 15000 to Rs 20000, so I have no option but to wait till the payment gets cleared from the department; else I would have paid from my own funds. The girls need not panic.”

Interestingly, according to an India Today report, Indian Railways spent about Rs1 lakh per coach to beautify it with Madhubani Paintings.

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