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Varun Dagar case: What does the law say about street performers in India?

The British introduced the Dramatic Performances Act in 1876 against street performers to curb growing dissent among Indians against the British Raj

Varun Dagar, Photo: Twitter

Varun Dagar, Photo: Twitter

BS Web Team

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Recently, a video of artist Varun Dagar being thrashed by the Delhi Police went viral on social media. Previously, many such instances have been reported, especially from metropolitan cities like Delhi and Bengaluru. The videos have sparked another debate on social media on why artists have to face this harassment from the police. Dagar was also a contestant on the reality show India's Best Dancer. He was performing in Delhi's Connaught Place when he was allegedly dragged and manhandled by the Delhi Police and parking managers.


What is busking?

Busking is an act or performance on the streets or a public place, generally done to entertain by dancing, singing, juggling, or acrobats. The artist, however, is not to be mistaken for begging. In busking, the artist accepts whatever the audience has to offer. 

Busking is a fairly common sight in several countries. The concept, as such, is not new to India. And can be said to be as old as Indian civilization. Throughout Indian history, there have been instances of storytellers, poets and performers who travelled on the road and performed on the streets.

Ironically, the Britishers introduced the Dramatic Performances Act in 1876 against street performers to curb the growing dissent among Indians against the British Raj. 

Currently, there is no law or policy to prevent or protect street artists, making it difficult for them to get justice or perform without permission. Often, the 1959 Bombay (Prevention of Beggary) Act is also used to stop street performers.

Many countries like the US and the UK have exclusive laws governing busking. Some countries also have busking unions to protect artists from harassment. Despite a rich history of performing arts like puppetry, snake charmers, Sufi poets, and Bhakti period saints like Kabir and Meera, India has turned its back to street artists.

At present, busking is not illegal in India. But, an artist may have to take permission from the local police or relevant authorities to avoid being booked for nuisance. The authority to determine whether the act creates a nuisance to the public is generally left to police discretion. This exposes street performers to possible harassment and exploitation.

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First Published: Apr 20 2023 | 3:11 PM IST

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