“Sex-Workers Are Also Part Of Ma Durga” – This Kolkata Puja Pandal Resembles A ‘Kotha’
Sayantani Nath West Bengal
October 12th, 2018 / 3:22 PM
Image Credits: Ahiritola Jubak Brinda, Ritesh Ghosh
Among the list of a hundred and eight items needed for the rituals of Durga Puja, features an unusual one – a clump of soil from the doorstep of sex workers. The ancient religious doctrine dictates the worship of the Divine Mother incomplete without this item. Yet, sex workers are still the most marginalised section of the society. They are ostracised and discriminated for their work, even by the urban educated population. Their children are excluded and denied the chance of a normal, happy childhood.
To etch a positive change in this scenario, the Ahiritola Jubak Brinda Puja Committee has something groundbreaking in store for their visitors this year. Collaborating with the sex workers’ association from the red-light area Sonagachhi, they have depicted the daily lives and struggles of these women, with a demand for recognition of their work rights.
Talking to The Logical Indian, committee member Bholanath Gupta detailed the idea behind their theme “Utsharito Alo” which translates as ‘From Darkness To Light’. “We want to help bring these women into the limelight, from the dark alleys of the restricted areas,” he elaborates.
Sex workers have always been mistreated
Durga Puja is more than a religious festival for the people in Kolkata. Calling it an emotion would also fail to do justice to the dreams it brings to life, the hearts it touches and the lives it transforms. Theme Puja – where the festival is portrayed through the lens of diverse themes, ranging from folk-art to philosophical to socio-environmental issues – has been dominating the Durga Puja scene in Kolkata for the past few decades.
Time and again, Kolkata has attempted to garner widespread awareness about pressing social issues. But, perhaps this is the first time sex workers are being represented on a religious occasion, as an integral part of society.
“Today, the society has depraved to such a low that no women, be it a child or an old lady, is safe from the hands of sexual predators. The condition of the sex workers is worse and more horrible at such a juncture. Our so-called ‘enlightened’ society still isolates them with disgust. Today, all professions are treated with respect and supported by workers’ unions. Yet, a sex worker, who is compelled to sell her body to feed her family, is not allowed to have a voice,” Gupta shares.
“A sex worker, who is also a mother, wants her children to have a bright career and earn respect in the mainstream society. Thousands of such mothers are fighting for years to exercise their right to be recognised with dignity, irrespective of their profession. So, this year, our Puja Mandap (marquee) wishes to appeal to the public to welcome these women into the social limelight, as they are also Nari-Shakti (women power) emanating from Maa Durga,” he adds.
A Facebook video shot by the Association members shows the artwork in progress along the 300 feet long road.
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A red-light area represented in a different light
The entire stretch of the 300-feet long street leading to the entrance of the Ahiritola Jubak Brinda Puja Mandap, has been transformed into a canvas. Scenes from the lives of the sex workers have been chronicled in sprightly colours. Kolkata-based graffiti artist Debanjan and his team has joined hands with twenty-five sex workers to bring these artworks to life.
The main Mandap has been modelled as a ‘Kotha’ – the archetypal living quarters of a sex worker, that has found mention in the pages of novels. The Durga idol, portrayed as a doting mother, graces the centre of the Mandap, with figures of sexual harassers and rapists lying dead and defeated at her feet.
At the premises of the Mandap, one can find lively sculptures as well as boards presenting the plight of these women through powerful poetry and slogans. “Along the sides of the main Mandap, we have created sculptures showing monstrous hands of men pulling a woman’s saree – which indicates the violation of an Indian woman’s dignity,” describes Gupta.
The entire set up has been brilliantly conceptualised by artist Manas Roy and the beautiful Durga idol has been sculpted by Parimal Pal.
“Without the support from sex workers’ association Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, we would never have been able to do this,” shares Gupta.
The sex workers are elated
Bharati Dey from Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee spoke to The Logical Indian about their involvement in this project. “The Puja committee approached us with the request to support their initiative. They told us that sex worker or not, every woman should be respected as our mother. They invited us to the inauguration ceremony, where they expressed their wish to create a society where no woman has to hide her face anymore,” she struggles to contain her thrill. A video shows the sex workers celebrating at the inauguration ceremony.
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The Logical Indian take
The Logical Indian applauds such a bold and empowering initiative by Ahiritola Jubak Brinda. For the first time in history, sex workers are being offered a much-needed platform to voice their grievances and demands. The participation and representation of these women in a religious festival were never imagined, yet this team of organisers made it a reality.
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