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From hardships of auto drivers to child labour, Kolkata's Durga puja committees focus on social issues

Kolkata: From the daily struggles of autorickshaw drivers to trafficking and abuse of women to blatant use of child labour in hotels, Durga puja committees in Kolkata have highlighted different social issues to generate awareness among people this festive season.

At Hazra Park Sarbojonin Durgotsav, one of the oldest pujas in the city, the hand-to-mouth survival tales of autorickshaw drivers have been narrated using replicas of the green and yellow three-wheelers adorning the marquee. To give it a real feel, real-life auto drivers will interact with pandal hoppers during the puja days.

Sayandeb Chatterjee, spokesperson of the puja committee, said, ‘From the familiar role of auto drivers competing against each other to net passengers and haggling for exact fares, we present their humane side, working 24×7 to feed their families while juggling roles as a parent, a spouse or a son.

‘Though their daily earnings are meagre, they try to keep their families happy and put in all that they can for the good education of their kids,’ he added.

Auto driver Sambhu Sana, who will be felicitated at the pandal on one of the festive days, said, ‘We negotiate through the city streets and its alleys defying severe weather conditions. We ferry passengers from dawn till midnight. Many of us will be present at the pandal in the evening hours this time to interact with pandal hoppers.’ At Kashi Bose Lane puja pandal, the image of a caged woman behind the Durga idol and the sculpture of a young girl before the deity tries to generate awareness on abuse of women in society.

As one enters the pandal, there are models of girls with chains tied to their feet, juxtaposed with models of girls holding books.

‘We have tried to portray that despite hundreds of Durgas in our households being ill-treated, violated and abused, yet they aspire to defy all odds to realise their dreams,’ puja committee general secretary Somen Dutta said.

The ‘Pathuriaghata Pancher Palli Sarbojanin Durgotsab’ has chosen the theme ‘Ritumati’ (the issue of menstrual hygiene) to debunk prejudices and create social awareness.

Ellora Saha, the working president of the puja committee, said, ‘We sought to drive home the message that menstruation is a biological process of every young woman and they should not be made to feel shy, embarrassed, awkward to discuss it.’ The puja committee through various images drives home the lessons of personal health and hygiene for girls as well as educating boys to handle this issue with an open mind, she said.

The puja committee took three months and Rs 18 lakh to make the pandal, she said.

The Banerjee Para Pujo Committee at Shyamnagar in the northern fringes of the city has chosen the theme ‘Haturi Noy Hate Khari, Sishu Shram Bandho Kori,” (No use of hammers by children, let us give them chalks and dusters) through models and posters.

A puja committee spokesperson said, ‘Through models and images, we have highlighted that children should not be used in places like tea stalls and factories where they are misfits. We urge visitors to protest whenever they see a child worker in an eatery or at someone’s house working as a help.”

(Published 16 October 2023, 17:27 IST)

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