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30 years on, still no land for Sitara Devi

At 95, the kathak danseuse is still fighting for the land, which she asked the government to grant her 30 years ago, for a dance academy

Eminent kathak danseuse, Sitara Devi, is one indefatigable woman. The 95-year-old continues to hope that the state government will allot her land where she will be able to open a dancing academy.

Despite meeting Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, Sitara Devi’s request has fallen on deaf ears
Despite meeting Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, Sitara Devi’s request has fallen on deaf ears 

Says a source, “She has been fighting against the Maharashtra government for almost 30 years now. All she wants is some land where she can open an institute and teach dance, but her repeated requests have not been heeded.”

IN 2011: Sitara Devi with actress Rani Mukerji at an awards event
IN 2011: Sitara Devi with actress Rani Mukerji at an awards event

Will not lose hope
Sitara Devi confirms that her plea has fallen on deaf ears all these years. “I have been fighting for this for more than 30 years now. I have met a lot of people in a bid to put forth my request, including Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. But so far nothing has happened. However, I will not lose hope; I will continue fighting till I get the land to set up my dancing academy,” she says.

IN 2009: Singer Anup Jalota with Sitara Devi at a concert in memory of Ustad Alla Rakha. PIC/SAMEER MARKANDE IN 2009: Singer Anup Jalota with Sitara Devi at a concert in memory of Ustad Alla Rakha. PIC/SAMEER MARKANDE

Jayanti Mala, Sitara Devi’s daughter, adds that her mother has met a lot of politicians but nothing has come out of it. “She can’t run around anymore. She has done so much for the country; time and again, she has put kathak on the global map by performing across the world. So it’s sad to see her being treated this way. Besides, we don’t want the land for our personal use; we just want to open a dancing academy where people can come and learn kathak.”

YESTERYEAR: Sitara Devi with Pandit Birju Maharaj
YESTERYEAR: Sitara Devi with Pandit Birju Maharaj

A source close to the family tells hitlist, “Sitara Devi has met a lot of ministers such as Sushil Kumar Shinde, but most have just offered her a flat in a building. Now a dance academy can’t be opened in a flat; what they need is a piece of land to set up the academy.”

The empress of dance
Rabindranath Tagore described Sitara Devi as the Nritya Samragini, meaning the empress of dance, after watching her performance when she was 16 years old. Born in Kolkata, her father, Sukhadev Maharaj earned his livelihood by teaching and performing kathak dances in different parts of India. Her mother, Matsya Kumari, was connected with the royal family of Nepal. Sukhadev Maharaj passed on to his daughters, Alaknanda, Tara and Dhano; and his sons, Chaube and Pande the passion for kathak.

By the time Sitara was 10, she was giving solo performances, mostly during the 15-minute recess during films in a movie theatre of her father’s friend. Her commitment to learning and perfecting dancing left her with very little time, and she did not continue her schooling. When she was 11, her family shifted to Bombay.

Sitara Devi was then recruited by Niranjan Sharma, a filmmaker and a dance director, and she performed dance sequences in some Hindi movies including her debut in Usha Haran, Nagina, Roti, Vatan, Anjali.

In Mother India, she performed a Holi dance sequence dressed as a boy. Sitara married filmmaker K Asif, and then Pratap Barot, with whom she has a son, Ranjit Barot. Both the marriages ended. This left her finding succour in her passion— dancing.

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