Streets leading up to Ahiritola Jubakbrinda Durga Puja pandal in north Kolkata showcase a 300-foot-long graffiti that captures the circumstances that force a woman to enter the sex trade.
Every year, before making Durga idols, potters in Kolkata collect soil from Sonagachi - Asia’s largest brothel, and Kolkata’s infamous open secret.
Yes, almost all Durga puja idols are made with soil from Sonagachi, the red light area of the city. But this year, this tradition took on something far more concrete.
The Jubakbrinda Durga Puja pandal in north Kolkata decided to lend a voice to these women and in style. The streets of Ahiritola have been painted with a 300-feet long graffiti that depicts the hardships and the various reasons that force women to get into this profession.
In a conversation with the Indian Express, Uttam Saha, working president of Ahiritola Jubakbrinda, said,
“Through time, our orthodox society has neglected the community of sex workers. We fail to realise that they are also someone’s mother, someone’s sister. They also have a family that should get the right to live a life with love and dignity, instead of facing torture and hatred from people.”
Adding to that, Debarjoon Kar, curator of the project, said,
“Durga Puja is about social mingling and celebrations by all, including sex workers. With this graffiti, we are pledging to return their basic rights to live in society, keeping their head high just like others.”
The art has been designed to reflect the lives led in Sonagachi. The brothel is known to be the largest red-light area in Asia with over 10,000 sex workers and is merely one kilometer away from Ahiritola. This tribute isn’t limited to just the art on the streets.
The pandal’s premises have been completely dedicated to these women with props, handmade posters, and even art installations showing the daily struggles of these marginalised sections of society.
Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), an NGO that works with sex workers, was invited to unveil the project and the artwork.
Kajol Bose, secretary of DMSC, said,
“We are done being on the margins. Till a few years ago, it might have been true that we were shunned from the puja festivities, but not any longer. Now, not only do we host our own puja, but also people invite us to pandals, make us judges of puja competitions, ask us to participate in sindoor khela and many more activities surrounding the festival. All I can say is, we are moving forward and finally, we are getting results for all that we have been fighting for.”
Manas Roy, an artist who has worked on this Durga project, said,
“A woman becomes a sex worker either due to trafficking or for the sake of running her family. She is also a mother, who despite all odds, takes care of her children and family. There can't be disparity when we celebrate womanhood in the form of goddess Durga.”
Besides this tribute, this year’s Durga puja also allowed unmarried women to participate in the sindoor khela ritual, open to only married women till now.
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