Artists’ plight


A sad reflection of our failure as a society


It was heartening to read Pashto music legend Sardar Ali Takkar and Pakistani Sufi signer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan will be performing at the Nobel Prize ceremony. For these two international acknowledgements, there are many which are a sad reflection on the abyss and misery entertainment artists have fallen into over time.

There are so many examples of artists who have delighted millions of people with their talents but have lived in extreme poverty, and in many cases died in extreme poverty. Pakistan Press Foundation on its official website notes the deaths of Murtaza Hassan, better known as Mastana and Babbu Baral with the words that they died in abject poverty in their native districts. (July 29, 2011) Renowned artist Romana in her last days was seen begging at the Lahore Railway Station and city’s posh streets. Ustad Zakir Ali Khan, a pillar of Radio Pakistan, lived in abject poverty in the twilight of his life. His appeal made to newspapers for art councils as well as government to help went unheeded. Seraiki Singer Pathanay Khan, recipient of President’s Pride of Performance Award and well known for his majestic delivery of “Meda Ishq Vi Tu”, died in extreme poverty.

Many leading artists like Mehdi Hassan, Ali Ijaz, Roohi Bano and others faced extremely difficult financial circumstances. However, political personalities and government officials have tried on many occasions to help the legends but there has not been an organisation with a focused objective of helping these artists. Punjabi World on February 20, 2010 reported Abrar-ul-Haq having set up a state of the art hospital in Narowal. In 2011, Punjab government had set up a fund for the welfare of artists and to support the families of artists. An amount of Rs50 million was allocated for the purpose.

News report on artsfreedom (March 2, 2014) states and I reproduce, “Artists’ and singers’ families literally starve as they have no job and no security. Some have laid their hands on other jobs. We have walked up to so called high-ups responsible for promoting cultural activities but no avail,” Tariq Jamal, a senior TV actor and president of the artists’ organisation Awaz (Voice).

The question that rises in one’s mind is why in the first place the artists need a support fund at the cost of their dignity. Ideally, according to the status and years of contribution of the artists, they must be awarded a decent pension to live on. Not an apology for a pension. Additionally, free medical treatment at the best hospitals and visitation rights to leading medical specialists must be part of the package. Should the government offer scholarships to the children of the artists? These and other related issues need to be thought out and a plan drawn up to care for the assets that are our artists.

The intellectual property rights of artists must be recognised by the electronic media. PEMRA Ordinance Section 20 (g) prohibits to ‘broadcast or distribute any programme or advertisement in violation of copyright or other property right’.

Copyrights is defined as: “The right of literary property as recognised and sanctioned by positive law. An intangible, incorporeal right granted by statute to the author or originator of a certain literary or artistic productions, whereby he is invested for a specified period with the sole and exclusive privilege of multiplying copies of the same and publishing and selling them.” (Black’s Law Dictionary, page 336)

Property right is defined as: “A generic term which refers to any type of right to specific property whether it is personal or real property, tangible or intangible.” (Black’s Law Dictionary, page 1218)

Intellectual property is defined as: “Property (as an idea, invention, or process) that derives from the work of the mind or intellect; also an application, right, or registration relating to this. Any song that you write is your intellectual property.” (Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary)

BBC Editorial policies 18.10.1 state: “Intellectual property rights include: Copyright, moral rights, performers’ rights, trademarks, patents and designs and rights to prevent “passing off” and breach of confidence.”

“Intellectual property lawyers in the Litigation and Intellectual Property Department (L&IP) give advice on the protection and exploitation of the BBC’s intellectual property rights and on the infringement risks to the BBC of using third parties’ intellectual property rights. Litigation lawyers in that department give advice on the infringement of intellectual property rights.

In case of a song by a local singer and played by a radio or/and TV channel, an agreed sum between the owner and the channel/radio station should be paid to owner of the intellectual property. The intellectual property will belong to the producer. In order to produce the song, he would have paid amounts to lyricist, musicians, cameraman, singer, et al. Sometimes, the singer himself can be the producer. The payment may be given to two people, producer and the singer known as ‘Shared Rights’. This may be a onetime payment but if a media house owns both a radio station and a TV channel or wishes to run the song on more than one TV channels owned, the sum paid may be higher. The TV/radio channel may buy property rights to the song in which case the producer cannot sell it to another channel/radio station.

Revised Section 20 (g) states: “Do not broadcast or distribute any programme or advertisement in violation of copyright, or other property right including intellectual property ownership without first entering into a contract with the owner of the said property.”

I do believe that we as a nation need to stop relegating our talent to the lowest rung of societal ladder. They must be acknowledged, celebrated and cherished.

American scholar Warren Bennis correctly observed, “There are two ways of being creative. One can sing and dance. Or one can create an environment in which singers and dancers flourish”


  1. An important issue indeed for the performing arts and artists. It is a sad state to see once renowned stars ending up to struggle hard for daily bread. In my opinion, there should be some permanent source of income set up by the government, like pension to help them in their later after retirement years.

  2. Many more such voice needed for the artists to lead a respectable life, specially in their old age

    Nice piece

  3. In my opinion, the compensation of an artist depends on the
    affluence of its audience. Only about 25% of the population of
    Pakistan can afford to pay enough at the gate in case of a concert
    that will sustain an artist. It is therefore concerts and recital are
    not big business in Pakistan. They are small businesses with low
    revenue. That is the reason why artists recede into financial

    Compare that to Jennifer Lopez concert in Santa Clara 2 years back.
    Seats ranged from $200 to $1800. They were all sold out with close to 5000
    individuals in attendance.

    It will take a while for that to happen in Pakistan.

    Syed Wajahat Hussain

  4. Dear Madam,
    It is a well written article, I agree with the intellectual rights aspect but I have certain reservations on the aspects of poverty of artists in the later portion of their life. I have following points to offer:
    a. During the prime time most of the artists earn a lot of money. Just imagine Rahat Fathe Ali charges approximately a million Rupees for one night. Same is the case of Hadiqa Kiani, Alam Lohar, Alamgir and many others at their prime time.
    b. Many of the artists indulge in smoking and drinking. I am not talking about any religious aspect because it is their own matter. What I want to highlight is that these vices incur an expenditure and seriously affect their their health, resulting in many diseases.
    c. During their prime time most of the artists have a lavish life style saving nothing for later times..
    The answer thus lies in not Government helping them out in various medical benefits but in inculcating in them the spirit for saving portion of their earnings for the later portion of their life and contributing for various insurance schemes. They would have the pride in utilizing their own savings rather than banking on Zakat contributions.
    Best Wishes
    Shamim Ahmed Shah

    Very well written article. Most of the artists that you named earned very good money in their hey days but had no clue of managing it hence it was squandered away on booze, drugs, parties and more. The same thing happens all over the world. Instead of blaming the Govt. For not helping the artists, what needs to be done is to create some fund mangers who can advise these (sometimes illiterate) artists to manage their funds for the future. And everybody would be happy at the end of the day. Keep up the good work Princess, someday I will get to meet you too.
    Cheers, FOOZY

  6. its good to see that nowadays almost every persons related to any creative field have ventured out to other businesses. they have learned a lesson….

  7. A good article. There should be some kind of safety net. Instead of blaming the artists for mismanagement of their wealth in their golden days, one should also keep in mind, it is human nature not to foresee properly. Artists are no exceptions, money necessarily does not mean their last days will be nice. Here in the West we see Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson & Robbin Williams die miserably despite of their wealth. Ms. Aftab Ali should be writing about the welfare of every Pakistani not only the artists.

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