During Durga Puja, while all blind lanes, dingy alleys, corners and crannies in Kolkata are decked up in dazzling lights, colourful marquees and vibrant themes, Bengalees flock the streets in hordes. Sounds exciting, right? Now imagine how Durga Puja is for the visually-impaired individuals, who can’t step into the jostling crowd to blend in with the Puja madness or witness the artistic marvels at the pandals. To foster more social inclusion, Samaj Sebi Sangha in Kolkata has portrayed blindness as their theme this year, with a pandal exclusively dedicated for the visually-challenged.
What Durga Puja means for the visually-challenged
Ballygunge Samaj Sebi Sangha is a noted Durga Puja organiser in Kolkata, especially known for their attempts to create social awareness about many issues. “To do justice to our association name, which translates as ‘The Social Workers’, we try to inculcate some social consciousness through our Puja every year,” shares Arijit Maitra, General Secretary of Samaj Sebi Sangha, while talking to The Logical Indian.
Social workers Sumi and Shubhodeep Majumder, who have been working with blind children at Voice of World Special School, approached Samaj Sebi Sangha and suggested them to take up the cause of the visually-impaired.
“We were so moved by the idea that we instantly finalised it. To start with, we interacted with students of Narendrapur Blind Boys’ Academy and Voice of World and asked them what Durga Puja means for them. Keeping in mind their ideas, dreams and emotions, we have tried to create an imaginary world in our pandal,” Maitra shares.
The organisers have extended special invitations to children from blind schools who have already staged different cultural performances at the podium near the pandal. They have also organised special surprises to fill those little minds with bursts of happiness.
Every inch of the pandal has something to tell you
The entire stretch of the pandal has been lined by a tactile path, where visually-challenged visitors can walk independently, side by side with others. An enlarged sculpture of the Goddess made using 12,000 screws, graces the entrance, which the visually-challenged people can touch to feel how a traditional idol looks like.
Handicrafts in nails & strings, woodwork and paper cutting, made by trained blind individuals, adorn the walls and ceiling of the main pandal.
The entire set up exudes the essence of a world as seen by individuals deprived of sight, with artworks and sculptures spreading the message of empathy to all.
To raise awareness about posthumous eye donation and how it can gift the blessing of sight to someone, the organisers have collaborated with MP Birla Eye Foundation. “Over 20 people have already pledged their eyes even before our inaugural ceremony. We hope more people follow suit,” informs Maitra. To ensure credibility, the volunteers are provided with a pledge certificate after they register for eye donation.
“A gateway installed near the pandal depicts a solar eclipse to pass the message that if we donate our eyes, then the light can come back to the visually-impaired,” he shares.
“We have also offered a stall to Blind Person’s Association who have been operating a Braille press in Bengal for a long time. Presently, due to a decline in external contributions, they are struggling with funds. We wish people pour in funds generously for them to continue their noble endeavour,” Maitra appeals to everyone.
The voice of an inward eye
The 2018 theme for Samaj Sebi Sangha is “Sparsha – Anubhaver Durga Pujo” (The Voice of an Inward Eye).
“The freedom of the mind’s eye is the right that Ma has given us. No external evil or darkness has the power to enter the divine world we create with our senses of touch and sound that Samaj Sebi has complemented. Our Durga Puja, therefore, is far more beautiful this year. They have assisted our eye and heart to conquer what sight bars us from.” – reads the description on their website.
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