Mumbai: Not suitable for streets

Stroll down the promenades of Marine Drive or Carter Road any given day and, aside from the throngs of pleasure-seekers soaking up the beauty of the sea, there are those who purely there to exhibit the self. Mumbai’s street performers are many, ranging from hip-hop artists to guitarists and the “golden man” statues. Unconcerned about who is watching, these artistes give free rein to their preferred form of expression, drawing in amused and delighted crowds.

However, a rather disturbing incident that occurred this Monday is created a flutter in social media spaces. Mumbai’s “Goldy Statue”, aka Taukir Alam, was manhandled by police at 8 pm at Bandstand, without any provocation he says. The video shows a policeman dragging Alam by the scruff of his throat, even as the crowd intervened and tried to push the policeman away.

A screen-grab of the video that shows Taukir Alam being manhandled

What’s worse is that, according to Alam, the policeman was allegedly under the influence of alcohol. “I was just standing there, as usual, when the police officer approached me with a lathi,” he recalls. “He started hitting me; my phone also broke in the process.” When Alam asked him what he did wrong, he refused to answer, but tried to drag him to the police station to “register a case and have him jailed”. “He also abused me,” Alam says. “I told him I wasn’t harming anyone, I was in fact just doing my job and making people smile. But he wouldn’t listen.”

This is not the first time Alam, who has been refining his art since 2020, has faced hostile officers of the law. Sometimes, he’ll just be walking along Marine drive in his golden get-up, and police personnel admonish him or make him sit in the local station for hours altogether, only releasing him after he pays a fine. “They tear my clothes, hurl abuses, and threaten me,” he says.

Also read: Mumbai: Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink

Alam is disheartened, especially because his chosen profession also had the added inconvenience of standing for eight to nine hours without eating, drinking, or moving. “I had seen a video of people becoming golden statues abroad. Seeing that, I thought, why not start it here?” the artiste, who is originally from Bihar, says. “I earn only about R400 to R500 rupees a day. But more than the money, I do this because it is my passion and I love making people happy.”

He says that heckling from police is part and parcel of the life of a street performer. Himanshu Tanti, a hip-hop dancer from Orangajuli in Assam, recalls how his friend, another dancer, was accosted by the police a few months back. “I have seen it happen with my street performer friends. My friend, who was scolded by the policeman, gave up on dancing after that and went back to Assam.”

Himanshu Tanti

But what was heartening for Alam was that the crowds of people stepped in to protect him, preventing the policeman from hauling him off. Many of them can even be seen arguing with the officer in the video. Tanti, who started performing on Mumbai’s promenades two years ago, says that people are becoming more supportive of street performers now: “Nowadays, people come to help if anything seems wrong. They stand with the artists.”

Ask him whether the fear of police pressure deters him and he answers, “Maybe this will happen with me as well one day. I like performing on the streets; it’s a whole new world. If anyone tries to act funny with me, I’ll fight back.”

The police crackdown on street artistes is not a new phenomenon. Earlier this year, Varun Dagar, a former contestant on the reality show India’s Best Dancer, and a busker who performs street dances in public places in Delhi, was pulled up by the Delhi police and accosted in much the same manner that Alam was. 

“I can’t sleep at night because I’ve been standing all day. The pain keeps me awake,” Alam says. “Still, I have no complaints. I just don’t understand why officials single us artists out instead of the people who are making trouble and drinking on the roads.” While Tanti says, “If they speak to us politely, telling us that we can’t perform because of the crowding in the area, that’s a different issue.”

In a report released earlier this week in mid-day, police officials stated that an investigation was underway. The Mumbai Police commissioner reportedly asked an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) to look into the matter. Police sources stated that although Alam was asked to leave the area, he declined to do so, resulting in an altercation.

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