By Anusha Sooriyan
It might be first time in history that West Bengal witnessed low-key celebrations of ‘Durgo Pujo’ amidst the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic. The festivities which began in mid October witnessed the organizers taking every preventive measure abiding by the order of Calcutta High Court and safety protocols stated by the state government to prevent crowds and ensure the safety of all those associated with the Puja.
While the celebrations have taken a back seat compared to previous years, where the Pandal hoppers managed to get a slight glimpse of varied themes of their goddess dawned in different avatars. This year the state had other ideas to conduct the crowd-puller Durga Puja. The marquees were seen depicting Covid 19 warrior i.e. Doctors in PPE Suits, Corona as ‘Mahishasura’ destroyed by Durga, Kamala Haris as Durga, floods in Assam etc. Primarily, the celebrations were dedicated to the 'Migrant Labourers Crisis'.
An estimated 100 million migrant workers were among the worst hit by India's strict lockdown between March and early July. The pandemic accompanied by the lockdown restrictions triggered a mass exodus from city jobs in garment factories, building sites and brick kilns. Many left without jobs marched back to their homes in the hope of some respite. (Bureau, 2020).
In an ode to the migrant workers, the festive organizers in the state of West Bengal came up with innovative ideas to design their marquee showcasing the plight of migrant labourers stranded or returning to their respective native places travelling through foot, roadways in harsh conditions during the imposed lockdown.
"Labourers are our main strength. They execute the idea of the theme maker. We have always been on their sides," Das, (Puja Committee official) said, adding all the workers went through Covid test before work started and their health is regularly being screened." (Kolkata, 2020)
Interestingly, the artists along with pandal workers have toiled hard, worked in shifts to make the festival a success. The labourers have come from Nadia, Murshidabad and several other districts from Bengal, Bihar and adjacent states of Northeast.
Some of the pandals designed and dedicated for migrant workers are drawing praises from everywhere, common men and celebrities. Especially, the Durga idol installed at the city’s Barisha Club designed by artist Pallab Bhaumik. The statue depicts the goddess Durga as a migrant worker looking out for her children — one child in her arms, the others around her. Ten hands around the deity looked magnanimous holding ten sacks of food describing the ordeal of migrants who suffered to find their regular meal per day during the peak of the pandemic.
Another Pandal, at Salt Lake’s Puja, the organising committee has chosen ‘humanity’ as its theme. The ‘wave of humanity’ called the organizers had involved dozens of migrant workers from Burdwan and other districts to decorate the pandal. (Das, 2020)
The real hero of Migrants, actor Sonu Sood was felicitated by dedicating a Pandal to his deeds. The actor turned out to be the migrants’ real messiah and helped desperate migrant workers return home. A bus arranged by him reading Mumbai to Delhi was installed next to his figure and migrant workers can be seen getting on the bus. The migrants were not only safely transported to their towns but those who required were given financial support by the actor which was cherished by the people across India and abroad.
Even before the Pandemic hit the country, the sculptors and artists were halfway through designing the themes soon after 2019 Durga Puja. Many of them had to abort the plans and wait for the pandemic to fade out. But shocked by television pictures of jobless migrants trudging home to distant villages, artists such as Rintu Das, Bhabotosh Sutar etc.,decided to pay homage to them, writes the Business World Bureau. He drew instances of their survival in every way possible and designed the Pandal. The artist invented his own musical compositions dedicated to the labourers.
He has also hired unemployed migrants from rural areas to build the pandal, while speaking to Thomson Reuters Foundation, he told, "They lost jobs, and the least we could do was not only give employment to some of them but also remind people of the hardships they face to earn their daily wages.” (Bureau, 2020)
There were outrages and trolls over internet by few on the depiction of the Durga in a migrant avatar, but artists and laborers dismissed the condemnation. Many migrants were recorded saying, “This Pandal is about us”. (Maji, 2020) The artists and sculptors also said, “The Pandal is an amalgamation of our imagination of our Durga Ma inspired from the women we are around”.
Anup Mondal, 26, lost his job as a driver during the pandemic and was desperately looking for work when he heard that the Naktala Udayan Sangha, a social club in Kolkata, was hiring people to build its pandal.
"It was like my prayers had been answered," Mondal said while speaking to the Business World, after a 14-hour day at work for which he earned 1,000 Indian rupees. “It all looked bleak this time till I got this job," said Mondal, who is professionally a driver. "I feel lucky that at least my family will have enough food on the table and we will celebrate that."
Similarly, many who lost job were reminded of the days they had to meet both ends, their friends and fellow workers who have committed suicide after losing their jobs as they knew they cannot run their families. Coping with salary cuts also became an issue for the migrants. The residents and labourers of India came together to worship Durga Ma with anticipation of brighter and healthy days ahead. (Singha, 2020)
Bureau, B. W. (2020). Migrant Workers Given Starring Role In Indian Festival Tribute. businessworld.in.
Das, M. (2020, October 22). No crowds, no pandal-hopping, no adda — Kolkata gets ready for unusual Durga Puja. The Print.
Kolkata, P. (2020, October 24). The long ordeal: A Durga Puja pandal to pay tribute to migrant workers. Deccan Herald.
Maji, S. K. (2020, October 26). Maa Durga marching as migrant labourer. Retrieved from https://ruralindiaonline.org: https://ruralindiaonline.org/articles/maa-durga-marching-as-migrant-labourer/
Singha, A. (2020, October 19). India look ahead with anticipation of positive days while they . Retrieved from Enewsroom.in: https://enewsroom.in/durga-puja-migrant-workers-bengal-covid-19/