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Durga Puja And The Great Indian Left

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As the dates for Durga Puja is coming closer, a few leftists and Ambedkarite keyboard fighters are gearing up together to write articles on how Durga Puja is a Brahminical ritual and how Durga was a carrier of Brahminical patriarchy. Unfortunately, these are the same people who will celebrate the festivals of other religions because the minorities follow them. Probably it’s their hypocrisy which has led to people, in general, to lose faith over the ideology. Yes, if you are criticizing a single religion just because the majority follows it while celebrating other religions, you are a part of the problem. A religion of any form that structures a particular culture is more or less, oppressive. Since liberalism had never confined itself to nationalistic boundaries, it is important to criticise all religions, irrespective of the context or the geographical region in which you belong. It is important to criticise the systematic process in which every religion supports the idea of inequality. Criticizing only one particular religion makes the whole motive a politically biased agenda.

Coming to the criticisms of Durga Puja, it is important to acknowledge the counter-narrative that Durga Puja is a Brahminical festival that celebrates the triumph of Aryan race on the ethnic communities of India. Since these are mythical stories, we can’t make any claim about these incidents. Maybe, Durga must have been like any random woman in the women’s wing of BJP, that is ‘Durga Vahini’. The problem lies in emphasising that Durga was a sex worker. Last year one DU professor was accused of calling her a ‘sexy prostitute’. Firstly, even if she had been a sex worker, should slut shaming be a part of the criticism of Durga Puja? A woman’s right to her body may not have to go in line with the Bahujan ideology. Neither is Bahujan ideology homogenous.

Secondly, if sex work had been a part of the class/caste/gender dynamics in India, shouldn’t we be empathetic to a woman who was used as a tool? As per the Bahujan narrative, Durga had been used as a tool by the people in Devlok because the king of Asura was gaining power. She was exploited like any savarna woman. The idea of Durga resembling those Brahmin women who brag about their identity because they are born Brahmin, even if they are devoid of any rights and have to suffer in the savarna family. It resembles those savarna women in north India, who are always made to wear saree and are not supposed to show their faces in front of ‘paraya mard’. The whole idea of caste pride is because of the Brahminical structure which they try to adopt within themselves, in order to create an illusion of their ‘power’ as it is being described in the mainstream. No, neither Durga nor these women have claimed themselves as feminists! Calling out all Brahmin women as privileged makes you either ignorant or sexist because women have always been minorities.

Whether such religious celebrations which celebrates inequality should be supported or banned is another debate. According to me, a literary fest or a film festival doesn’t garner as much of an audience as a religious festival does. A daily wage earner, irrespective of his/her caste can use this opportunity to earn by selling items at roadside food stalls. Neither does he/she needs enough education to participate in them. As long as these labour forces are not being absorbed in any of the public undertakings, we have no right to ban a festival which is a source of earning for them. Also, the fact remains that the lower castes have mostly Brahminized themselves. As we do not share their experiences, abusing what they believe is again a way of appropriating their livelihood. Of course, we need to speak up when human rights are getting violated. At present, one solution can be a Durga Puja without the statue of Mahisasur below the legs of Durga.

Even if we are atheists, we need to understand the value of these festivals on the lives of a common man. It not only provides employment, but it also brings people together to celebrate something by creating a common identity. At present, Durga Puja has more to do with celebration than merely participating in rituals. Of course, it is elitist, but it is not exactly that the lower class is not benefitting from it and these benefits are a lot more than what a human rights conference or a literary fest could have fetched them, economically.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Read more about her campaign.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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