Dancers are reluctant to take part in tshechus 

Culture: Sithup Dhendup lost his wife five months ago. His family is recovering from the loss. But he is compelled to leave his family, mother and the village.

As the lead atsara (clown), Sithup is busy practicing for the upcoming Tsirang tshechu in March. He has been performing for almost a decade now. But this year he badly wants to take leave and be home with his family.

But Tsirang dzongkhag is already short of about 10 mask dancers to perform during the tshechu, they cannot afford to let Sithup go.

He said his two children, aged nine and 16, will manage to eat and take care of their grandmother, but there are other works to be done. “It is time for sowing maize, I’ve not ploughed my field. Fuel wood for summer is yet to be chopped,” he said adding that he will remain away from home until the festival ends on March 17.

Another mask dancer, Tshering Dorji, has similar issues.  He wants to quit.  The 26-year-old has left his eight-month pregnant wife with two children, aged seven and four, at home in Gopini, Dunglagang gewog. He owns two milking cows. “Should my wife fall ill, there is no one to call for help,” he said. “Neighbours are far away and my two kids are too young.”

Although it’s equally important to participate in the tshechu, his presence is needed more at home at this moment, he said. He has not given up convincing dzongkhag officials to relieve him of the duties.

Finding volunteer mask dancers, like in many other dzongkhags, is a tedious job in Tsirang. Low daily subsistence allowance (DSA) continues to be the main factor that’s deterring dancers from participating.

The mask dancers are paid a DSA of Nu 150, which is less than the National Work Force (NWF) daily wage. Labour ministry revised the daily wage for NWF in September last year. It ranges between Nu 215 for an unskilled worker to Nu 324 for level I worker such as mechanic, carpenter and painter.

Lead atsara Sithup said Nu 150 is not enough for them to buy ration for the practice session of about a month and half. Accommodation is provided by the dzongkhag.  In 2014, Sithup sold two goats to clear his debt, about Nu 7,000 while away from home participating in the tshechu.

Tsirang’s cultural officer, Sonam Wangchuk said after facing acute shortage of dancers last year, he visited each gewog this year for selection. During the gewog visits, at least 60 were interested but only 20 turned up for the practice session.

“People are interested, but the poor DSA is the main factor deterring villagers from participating,” he said adding that last year after the tshechu, a proposal for revision was put up to the home ministry. Nothing has been heard of as of now.

The DSA was revised in 2012 by Nu 50.

We are paid better in the village, said Tshering Dorji. “Instead of taking part in the tshechu, if we plough fields or chop wood in the village, we earn at least Nu 350 a day,” Tshering Dorji said. “A raise in daily wage is must to attract people to keep this important event going.”

Nirmala Pokhrel