MUMBAI: With migrant workers facing immense hardships due to the coronavirus pandemic, organisers of Durga Puja in a Kolkata neighbourhood have decided to pay tribute not to Goddess Durga but to the women migrant workers who have been struggling to survive the pandemic.
Barisha Club Durga Puja committee in Behala, Kolkata has decided to replace the traditional idol of Durga this year with an idol of a migrant worker and mother with a child on her hip.
According to The Telegraph, the idol will be clad in a saree with a shirtless baby in her arms. The theme highlights this year’s purpose to celebrate the festival, which is “Tran” (relief). It is likely to depict the pain and suffering the migrant workers endured during the pandemic, the report claims. It also marks the homecoming of the women laborers, just like daughter Durga. Many mothers were photographed carrying their infants in their arms during on long return journeys during the lockdown.
Behind the mother will be her two daughters — one with a baby owl in the crook of her arm and the other caressing a duck. A fourth sibling, pot-bellied and with the head of an elephant, give them company.
Together, the mother and her four children are walking towards a small, more traditional image of the goddess with 10 hands inside a halo looking for relief.
She is seeking relief for her children. She turns back when someone calls her. The caller realises the migrant woman is the goddess herself and hails her. The idol worshipped at Barisha will be the migrant mother with a child in her arms and three children trailing her.
Not just Durga, the other deities in the pantheon that are part of the Durga Puja panel including Saraswati and Laxmi have also been replaced. The godesses will be represented by two the migrant worker’s daughters in her wake, one with an owl representing Laxmi and the other with a duck, Saraswati’s chosen ‘vaahan’ (transport). The four are accompanied by a tubby little kid with an elephant’s head, signifying Ganesha.
“The goddess is the woman who braved the scorching sun and hunger and penury along with her children. She is looking for food, water and some relief for her children,” said Rintu Das, the artist, reflecting on this year’s theme of Durga Puja. So far, there is no clarity about the pandal decoration. “No pandal can fully capture the plight of workers during the lockdown. But we can at least show some empathy,” said Debaprosad Bose, a founder-member of the club.
Das, a graduate from the Government College of Art and Craft, has been working with big pujas of Kolkata for several years now. This is his third consecutive year with Barisha Club.
“During the lockdown, all I remember seeing on TV and reading in newspapers was migrant workers returning home on foot, some of them dying on the road. Some of my friends who drove to Bengal from Delhi and other parts of northern India gave me vivid details of what they saw on the roads. Durga Puja was still months away. But the indomitable spirit of the women walking home with children overwhelmed me. In my mind, they embodied the goddess,” said Das.
The sudden announcement of the lockdown compelled millions of migrant workers to return to their home states from their workplaces. The unplanned lockdown, absence of an adequate financial cushion and denial of transport spawned a human tragedy not seen in India since the Partition.
Many migrant workers died en route. A research group called the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) said in September that 972 deaths had been counted among migrant workers till July 4 during the course of the lockdown.
The idols are due to reach the Barisha Club pandal, less than five minutes’ walk from Diamond Harbour Road in Behala Sakherbazar, on Thursday. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee is scheduled to inaugurate the puja on Friday.