This year’s Durga Puja seems to be breaking new ground in various ways. From sindoor khela being open to all – not just married women — one puja committee has decided to dedicate this year’s theme to the struggle of sex workers.
In the streets leading up to the Ahiritola Jubakbrinda Durga Puja pandal in north Kolkata, city dwellers are stopping by to appreciate a large artwork on the street. But it’s not the colourful paintings that are striking a chord, it’s the subject.
The 300-foot-long graffiti captures the hardships and the circumstances that force a woman to enter the profession. With the theme Utsarito Alo, they are addressing not only the inclusion of these sex workers but also trying to give them the respect and dignity they deserve. “Durga Puja is about social mingling and celebrations by all, including sex workers. With this graffiti, we are pledging to return their basic rights to live in society, keeping their head high just like others,” Debarjoon Kar, curator of the project told indianexpress.com.
The work has been created by eight artists. “Streets have always been a place for protests, be it political or social, so we thought why not use these same streets to tell their story and demand the rights of the sex workers,” Kar added.
And it’s not just the artwork on the street, the entire premise have been dedicated to these women who are often forced to exist on the margins of society. From props used inside the sanctum, hand-made posters demanding rights for them, to art installations depicting the everyday life of these women, the pandal captures it all.
“Through time, our orthodox society has neglected the community of sex workers. We fail to realise that they are also someone’s mother, someone’s sister. They also have a family that should get the right to live a life with love and dignity, instead of facing torture and hatred from people,” said Uttam Saha, working president of Ahiritola Jubakbrinda.
The puja committee’s work has overwhelmed the workers in Kolkata’s Sonagachi — Asia’s largest red light district and home to over 10,000 sex workers. Members of Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), an NGO which closely works with sex workers were invited to unveil the project and paint the artwork. “We are very happy with their initiative and it feels great to be the focus of a puja,” Kajol Bose, secretary of DMSC told indianexpress.com over phone.
Bose added, “We are done being on the margins. Till a few years ago, it might have been true that we were shunned from the puja festivities, but not any longer. Now, not only do we host our own puja, but also people invite us to pandals, make us judges of puja competitions, ask us to participate in sindoor khela and many more activities surrounding the festival. All I can say is, we are moving forward and finally, we are getting results for all that we have been fighting for.”
What was restricted to just soil from a brothel – an essential component for the making of Durga idols as an inclusion – has truly transcended into something more concrete and impactful.