This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Bidisha Bhatacharya. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

With the Pujo hardly a month away, artisans of Bengal experience Worst Financial Crisis

More from Bidisha Bhatacharya

Jaba Da sat down in the nearest bench of the tea stall stationed exactly opposite to his workshop sipping a cup of tea before he would give finishing touches to a Durga idol. Pal Para, popularly known as ‘Kumartuli’ (potter’s locality), has been sustaining his livelihood for the past 15 years. Yet somehow this so-called ‘peak season’ brought in with it a significant segment of THROW than THRIVE. 

Usually, the lanes and the bylanes of the oldest and probably the largest locality of potters in Cooch Behar district of Bengal, hum with a buzz of activity during this time of the year. Yet somehow those very lanes wear a deserted look today. With the pandemic forbidding pujo committees to place orders for the idols resulting in a massive loss of annual income for the artisans, to recuperating from the cyclone that washed away the already built inventory for future orders, these people are experiencing what can closely be stated as the Worst Financial Crisis so far.

An artisan, precisely, receives a minimum order for about twenty to twenty-five idols of Durga each year. However, in 2020, they haven’t received any barring a few household pujas. Bookings are usually confirmed on the first day of the Bengali New Year, Poila Boisakh, or Akshaya Tritiya, the Hindu Spring festival, yet as a result of lockdown, neither have the puja committees booked idols nor have they paid the advance amount. 

As a dozen orders for Basanti and Annapurna idols had been canceled at the last minute in and around the 25th of March, this year, artisans fear that with eight to ten idols almost nearing completion, a couple of big-time Pujo organizers have informed that they would like to adopt the ‘wait and watch’ policy to see if the situation improves, now that Panchami is hardly a month away. Some committees have also put the process on hold stating that they are speculating the present economic situation and might opt for a smaller idol instead, this year. 

A big idol usually costs Rs 2.5 to 3 lakh whereas a smaller one can be anywhere between Rs 60,000 to 90,000 in Kumartuli. Durga Puja is known to generate a significant chunk of the revenues in West Bengal. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry Report of 2013 had clearly stated that the industry generates about 25,000 crores of revenue every year. During the Pujo season, a single artisan earns usually around Rs.60,000 a month. Every year, a minimum of 25 trucks of clay and over 3500 pieces of bamboo poles are required. A significant number of 20 to 30 artisans depend on the daily wage of 300 to 500 rupees who come to work from various parts of North Bengal and Krishnanagar during this time of the year. As far as the information goes, a minimum of six people is required to sculpt an idol. The procedure basically encompasses a chain of people depending upon each other, so in case one fails to make it, the entire structure goes haywire. 

Today if you ask any one of them, you will receive a unanimous reply, “Kaaj nei” (there is no work). The very organizers who had bought idols in the range of Rs.60,000 to Rs. 80,000 have been unwilling to pay more than Rs. 20,000 this year. The goddess would usually be 12 feet tall yet this year’s organizers are looking for idols that are 6 to 7 feet high. Orders from the countries abroad have mostly been canceled while a few of them who still wish to hold the puja are asking for idols as short as 2.5 feet, the shortest by any standard. 

The plight of the artisans has been worsened by the tumultuous cyclonic disruption they had to suffer alongside. Most of their houses have washed out and they were hoping to utilize their earnings from the pujo season for re-establishment. However, with surprisingly meager gross collectibles, it doesn’t even count for a plausible solution anymore. Generally, artisans get paid between Rs.10,000 and Rs.30,000 during this time of the year, yet so far most of them have received work worth 2000 rupees maximum. 

In addition to the assistants and helpers, a large number of laborers turn up from districts, namely, Sundarbans, Canning, Baruipur, Joynagar, and their adjacent areas in South 24-Parganas, in order to carry the idols from the workshops to the pandals and return home only after the immersion. This number has been anticipated to be cut off by 70 percent this year amidst the growing risk of Coronavirus. 

Moving on to another elephant in the room, Input Supplies. Every artisan in Kumartuli remains heavily dependent on the input supplies, primary, mud, bamboo, straw, ornaments, and dress materials which predominantly get supplied from East and West Midnapore, Burdwan, and North and South 24-Parganas. Bamboo is mostly sourced from Murshidabad and Nadia. Up till last year, ornaments worth Rs.4 crore had been used to deck the idols for the pujo, the amount for the same stands at 1.5 crores this year, which signals a massive slump. 

Babu Paul, the secretary of Kolkata Kumartuli Mritshilpa Sanskriti Samity (KMSS) have quoted that in Kolkata alone over 2.5 lakh artisans depend on Durga Puja to make a living. These artisans check the newspapers and television news channels every single day hoping that the Government would announce something in their favor. A couple of them had also visited the District Magistrate’s Office, explained their plight, had filled out a couple of forms only to never hear back and stand completed neglected and exploited for years. 

Apart from this, there are artisans who own factories with better capital and employ others as daily-wage laborers. This is continuing despite them receiving fewer orders. In order to cover the entire expense, they have asked the government for loans but neither banks nor the aforementioned have been benevolent enough.

This is the first time in the history of West Bengal’s Durga Pujo that artisans are experiencing a stark dearth of work with bone-breaking amounts of debt. It’s high time the Government responds with a sustainable model for the community that has been delivering both Aesthetics and Affluence in its ultimate form for half a century. 

Youth Ki Awaaz is an open platform where anybody can publish. This post does not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions.

You must be to comment.

More from Bidisha Bhatacharya

Similar Posts

By logupdate africa

By Parth Bhandari

By Shivangi Vohra

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

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.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

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.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below