Sunday, October 17, 2010

Caste bar on Puja festivity - ALAMGIR HOSSAIN

Gangadhari (Murshidabad)

Thirty families at a Murshidabad village who belong to a lower caste are not allowed to take part in Puja festivities.

The families, who live in Gangadhari village in Naoda, belong to the muchi (cobbler) caste.

The members of the 30 Das families said they were not allowed to offer anjali or enter the pandals at either of the two pujas held at their village.

“We feel very sad during the Puja. Since childhood, we have been brought up in this environment. We have now come to accept that Durga Puja, the biggest festival in Bengal, is not for us,” said Sujoy Das, 50, a resident of Daspara in Gangadhari.

Sujoy said the organisers of the two pujas, at Rudrapara and Dakshinpara, do not accept subscription from them.

“Every year, we approach the organisers with subscriptions between Rs 100 and Rs 200 for the 30 families but they always refuse to take the money. We are not allowed to take part in the festivities only because we belong to the muchi caste,” Sujoy said.

Most of the Dases trade in animal hides while some of them are farm labourers. The average daily income per family is between Rs 80 and Rs 100.

Amar Das, 52, said that during the rest of the year, the villagers spoke to the Dases and even had tea from the same stall. “But during the Puja, the same villagers ignore us. If we go near the pandals, we are virtually driven out,” Amar said.

The fear of being insulted keeps the Das folk away from the Puja festivities. “We don’t go near the pandals. We stand at least 100 metres from the pandals and offer prayers to the goddess,” Amar said.

Nilima Das, 30, who was a resident of Nadia’s Karimpur before marrying into a Das family in Gangadhari 12 years ago, said she felt she was being wronged.

“In Karimpur, I never felt that I belonged to a lower caste. Everyone was treated equally. However, after I came to Gangadhari, I was shocked at the attitude of the puja organisers. We realise that we are being wronged but what can we do? This is the tradition here. But my children are too young to understand this. They want to go to the pandals. How can we allow them?” Nilima said.

The puja organisers are apparently unfazed.

“I personally don’t believe in the caste system. But we have to follow tradition. We don’t allow them (the Dases) to come to the pandals and offer anjali. We also do not take any subscription from them. I alone cannot change the system,” said Swapan Mondal, the secretary of the puja committee at Dakshinpara.

Lakshman Rudra, the secretary of the puja committee at Rudrapara, said: “This is nothing new. We have been following this system for years. Why don’t the Dases organise their own Durga Puja?”

Subdivisional officer Soumendu Biswas said the deprivation was “unfortunate”.

“I have not received any complaint from the Das families. But now that I have come to know about it, I will speak to the organisers,” he said.

The Telegraph, 16/10/2010

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