Durga Pujas in Kolkata salute migrant workers, highlight their plight during lockdown

As West Bengal gears up for its biggest festival, Durga Puja, starting next week, at least two puja committees have decided to portray the hardships, which millions of migrant workers had to bear in the aftermath of the Covid-19 lockdown, through artwork in their pandals.

At least 10 million migrant workers left cities and returned to their homes in states like West Bengal after the lockdown was imposed from March 25. West Bengal alone received over a million such workers.

Artisans at a puja pandal in Salt Lake’s AK Block have come with life-sized statues, murals, and images of migrant workers to depict scenes of the massive exodus the country witnessed during the 68-day lockdown.

Bedraggled migrant workers – men and women; young and old – carrying tatty belongings and children on their heads and shoulders, walking hundreds of miles down the highways to reach their homes become a common sight during the pandemic. Many reportedly died, even though the Centre said in Parliament that it has no data on migrant deaths.

Also read: Cancelling Durga puja revelry not an option, people should follow Covid protocols, says Mamata

“More than a dozen statues, depicting people from various walks of life, are being installed in the pandal. They would represent the local press-man, the panipuri wala, the tea stall owner who [are] basically migrant workers in cities. Even the idol of Goddess Durga has been made in such a way that she resembles a simple village woman,” said Raja Banik, one of the organisers of the 33-year-old AK Block Puja.

In West Bengal, Durga Puja pandals are built on themes that range from a recent happening or a burning socio-economic issue. The festivities continue for more than a week. The big-theme pujas parade down roads to participate in a carnival during immersion where thousands gather every year.

In another 32-year-old puja pandal in West Kolkata, the organisers have selected ‘relief’ as their theme in which the idol of Goddess Durga would be replaced with a statute of a migrant woman carrying her child. Her two daughters and a son, whose head is that of an elephant walk behind her.

“The family represents Goddess Durga and her children – Ganesha, Lakshmi, Saraswati and Kartikeya. The woman is a migrant worker and a mother who is searching for food and water for her children,” said Rintu Das, an artisan.

Durga Puja would be celebrated for four days starting October 23. This year more than 37,000 pujas would be organized across the state, including more than 2500 in Kolkata. Around 1700 pujas are being organized by women. The list does not include those organized inside housing societies and houses.

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