Durga Puja is political in Kolkata: NRC, migrant hardship theme for Behala's Barisha Club
Days after a Durga Puja pandal in Kolkata made headlines for showcasing the Lakhimpur Kheri violence as its theme, photographs and videos of another one are being shared widely on social media. South Kolkata's Barisha Club has come up with the theme of ‘Bhaager Maa’ (“The mother, divided”) for this year's Durga Puja pandal and is based around the subject of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the hardship of migrant workers during the coronavirus pandemic in India. The theme is also heavily laden with overtones of the refugee crisis and the pain of the post-partition borne by millions of people who left behind their ancestral homes amid violence.
“The pandal is separated into two parts,” Barisha Club Durga Puja event organiser Debaprashad Bose told the ANI news agency. “The left side depicts the Bangladesh border and the right side shows the Indian border. In-between, a huge cage-like structure is placed, showing a woman carrying an idol of goddess Durga along with her children.”
Barisha Club has been focusing on the migrant crisis in India for its Durga Puja theme for some time now—last year, the event organisers had chosen a similar theme, displaying the goddess as a working-class migrant woman carrying her children in tow. The artist, Rintu Das, who was roped in for this year's theme as well, told local media publications that the Durga Puja this year intends to revisit concerns over history repeating itself.
Notably, following the 1947 Partition, the agitated land of Bengal also saw its divinities separated into two parts – between India and Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan). The ‘Dhakeshwari Durga’ of Dhaka became the idol of West Bengal's Kumortuli, the traditional potters' quarter in North Kolkata renowned for its sculpting prowess. Years later, a Durga Puja theme in south Kolkata urges its audience to consider the question – will the country see another distressing period, when the goddess has to once again leave her ancestral land behind and travel elsewhere?
In a related development, the violence in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri during a farmers’ protest last Sunday has also found a mention in the theme of a Durga Puja pandal in the northern fringes of Kolkata. The Dum Dum Park Bharat Chakra Puja Committee unveiled their innovative pandal on Mahalaya, highlighting the farm law agitation as well as Sunday’s Lakhimpur Kheri violence.
A giant replica of a tractor being used by farmers to till the land has been placed at the entrance of the Dumdum Park Bharat Chakra pandal, depicting their struggle. The tractor has two wings attached symbolising freedom from bonded labour.