With the state government prohibiting the celebration of Ganesh Chathurthi in public places this year, idol makers in Tamil Nadu, whose businesses relied on the festival, are staring at a bleak future.
Citing the increase in number of coronavirus cases, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisami did not grant permission for installation of idols in public places or their immersion in water bodies. In a statement on Thursday, the state government reiterated its stand on the Vinayagar Chathurthi celebrations, further requesting people to cooperate and celebrate the festival in their homes.
Though the decision by the state government seems widely accepted by the general public, idol makers are looking at huge losses. The craftsman, who depend on these festivals for their livelihood say that close to 70 per cent of their products are lying unsold because of travel restrictions which were imposed by the government and due to the ban on the installation of idols in public places.
In Kosapettai near Pursaiwalkam in Chennai, where many of the families’ livelihood depends on the idol-making business are witnessing a deserted look in the market which used to be buzzing with buyers every year. Further, without support from the government, they fear their art will perish with their generation.
The idols usually range from six inches to five feet in height and are produced with different materials in different themes and colours, including those made of clay, potato flour, paper mache, etc. The makers usually place the big-sized idols before temples, auto-stands, or at the center place of adjoining streets. Some of them specifically make the idols based on the current trend; it ranges from cricket to cinema to viral issues, etc.
But this year, due to the pandemic, artisans aren’t able to create more idols, and haven’t found any takers for their already produced works.
Speaking to Indianexpress.com, Jayanthi, whose family had been involved in the business for over four decades, says she has never seen a dull season like this before.
“Because of the lockdown, all shops were closed and we were not able to get the materials like sand, twig, etc to make Ganesha Idols. Our livelihood depends on this, we don’t have any other job. Usually, we invest all the incomes we earned from the starting of the year in making the Idols and used to generate the amount in August and September where all the festivals take place. But this year, we are hit badly. In place of 1,000 Idols, we have produced only 200 or 300 this time and there is no profit from it. Already many of our friends have left this business and migrated to other parts of the city in search of a better income. If the situation continues like this in the upcoming years and if there is no support from the government, this profession will soon perish,” she said.
Manikandan, who had been involved in the trade for over 15 years echoes this view. “There is no profit this year, the cost of clay and other materials have increased rapidly. The orders have decreased, we are just hoping that situation will get better before Navaratri,” he said.
Jayanthi, who had attended only primary schooling, said she doesn’t know any other trade. “My family is dependent on this business. I have five daughters, how will I feed them if I am not able to generate money from this? we are in severe financial crisis,” she said.
Small shops in the platform and those who sell idols in trolley buy the products from them. However, due to the pandemic, none of them have turned up this time.
“They are asking if they buy from us will they be able to sell it. How do we know that? We cannot promise that they can make a profit out of it because we ourselves in a grave position. The government is providing 1000 rupees cash support in the ration shop, but how can we run the family with that amount? Who will pay for cylinders and other necessary items?” Jayanthi added.
Selvi, another Idol maker said due to the outbreak of virus, their future looks uncertain.
“People don’t frequent shops to buy idols as they do for Tasmac shops, or fish and meat stalls. There are more crowds in those places, and it is operated throughout the year. Only on Sundays, people will step out to buy (idols), but due to the total lockdown, there is absolutely no movement of people. We can earn only in these two months and our business is shut, but Tasmac shops are allowed to operate. How unfair is this? asked Selvi.
She added that the bank is offering them loan but they don’t have the income to repay it, and the night curfew has only added to their troubles.
“Usually people will come around the evening and purchase our products. Due to the lockdown, everything is shut around 7 pm. We have not produced big idols fearing it won’t sell, but even for selling smaller, there are several restrictions. We are not allowed to sell them even in front of our houses, the police officers immediately ask us to avoid selling that citing the current restrictions. We have got no idea how we are going to pay the school fees for our kids. I request Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisami to provide us some relief. If we were able to sell the products this time, then only we can purchase the materials for the next year,” she added.
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