When the world undergoes a challenging situation due to ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, people of India while witnessing annual and long festive period, did not forget to show solidarity with the people affected by the war in west Asia. There have been other issues too of humanitarian concerns, like every year, representing how people feel and want to change the way things are, prominently displayed as art works. The first lag of the festivities which ended with elaborate Durga Puja vividly expressed the pain and crises inflicted upon the civilians due to Israel-Palestine conflict.
Puja pandals which are temporary structures created by artists using their best artistry and finesse, are created every year for annual Hindu and Bengali festival in the worship of Godess Durga, the epitome of women power. Over the year these artists have followed the tradition of representing Maa Durga, the ‘mother Goddess’ as the power of women as a ‘mother’ the protector of its children and also the one who fights the evil to protect its progeny. Hence the theme every year revolve around the issues of grave humanitarian concerns and ‘Maa Durga’s prowess are invoked symbolically to ward off the evil for the good of the society.
This year although the focus was on Israel-Palestine conflict, Goddess Durga was prominently represented as the voice of women in the form of ‘Mother of Manipur’ in solidarity with Manipur gang rape victims while also showcasing the India’s dismal state of children who are not only hungry and malnourished but are also trafficked due to human greed. The theme interestingly ranged to even highlighting the paradox of the society which on one hand celebrates the contribution of women scientists who were part of India’s moon mission Chandrayaan-3 but on the other hand larger part of India fails to accept Menstruation as an important aspect of being women.
The Pandal artists through such themes therefore continue to show the mirror to the society which needs to evolving and change.
‘Mother of Manipur’ stands as saviour
In Kolkata, the cultural capital of India, Pandals often compete in creating the most intricate and awe- inspiring structures. From highlighting the lives of nude models to praying for peace in violence-hit Manipur, each pandal uniquely reflect upon a issue.
In Salt Lake area of the ‘City of Joy’ Manipur violence became a prominent representation during the festival season. Disturbed by the ethnic-strife in the northeastern state, the organisers selected ‘Mother of Manipur’ as its theme.
Maa Durga (mother Goddess) instead of conventional ten hands as the symbol of power was represented with only two hands open and while eight hands tied, shackled, struggling, fighting hard to win a battle. The idol represented women of Manipur and the pain and suffering they endured and how they won the battle by conquering the evil in a hope, possibly, that worst will never be repeated.
“We were moved by the ethnic violence that broke out in the state on May 3 this year, followed by incidents of atrocities on women. We decided to spread the message of peace through our theme,” said Nilanjan Brahma, secretary of Sarbojanin Durga Puja.
“The pandal represents one community of Manipur, while the idol of Goddess Durga represents another. Both the communities have been represented in our puja pandal to spread the message of peace,” he said.
The Manipur issue…..
Manipur ethnic violence which started on May 3rd this year continue to affect the normal lives of the people.This crisis has seen a grim toll, with 187 lives lost, 70,000 people displaced, and over 1,700 homes and 253 churches destroyed, all stemming from a prolonged conflict between the largely Hindu Meitei community and the predominantly Christian Kuki Tribes in Manipur. Nineteen independent experts associated with the United Nations Human Rights Council have issued a plea to the Indian government regarding the deepening ethnic, tribal, and religious crisis in the Indian state of Manipur.
The appeal underscores that while the origins of this conflict were rooted in political disputes between these two ethnic groups, the disproportionate impact on Christians, both Kuki and Meitei, cannot be denied. In a joint statement, the UN experts have expressed grave concern about the role of inflammatory and hateful rhetoric, which was propagated both online and offline, preceding and inciting the violence against the Kuki ethnic minority. Notably, this persecution has especially targeted Kuki women due to their ethnicity and religious beliefs.
The experts go further, expressing their alarm at the reported misuse of counter terrorism measures to justify acts of violence and repression against ethnic and religious minorities. It’s a matter of record that India has faced extensive scrutiny and criticism for its freedom of religion standards, with various laws and policies accused of severely constraining the liberties of minority religious groups. Additionally, these policies often expose these communities to harassment and violence orchestrated by violent mobs.
Giorgio Mazzoli, the Director of UN Advocacy for ADF International, has stated that the crisis in Manipur has reached a critical point. He emphasized that it’s imperative for Indian authorities to take decisive steps to quell the ongoing violence and simultaneously eliminate any laws or policies that infringe upon religious freedom and perpetuate the persecution faced by religious minority groups.
Child trafficking, a prominent cause amidst festivities
Theme of China Hote Uma prominently highlighted the cause of child trafficking in India. Haunting visuals of child trafficking were aimed at highlighting how children are unsafe and vulnerable and fall prey to the greed of human. Creative installations aimed at raising awareness for the cause have been the heart -wrenching tales of victims of child trafficking .
Every day, thousands of women and children fall victim to the harrowing world of human trafficking. In South Asia, particularly India, this issue looms large. The region serves as both a transit point and a final destination for those ensnared in the web of human trafficking. While external trafficking to Gulf States and South-East Asia is a concern, internal trafficking within India is equally significant. Among the most heart-wrenching aspects is the sale of children, many of whom are moved across state borders within the country.
Menace of Child trafficking in South Asia
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) paints a grim picture of child trafficking in India. In 2019 alone, approximately 2,200 cases of child trafficking were reported. Shockingly, a staggering 95 percent of these cases were instances of internal trafficking, highlighting the extent of the problem within the country. Official figures indicate that 6,616 individuals were reported as trafficking victims, with a distressing 2,914 of them being children. However, it’s important to note that these statistics likely represent only the tip of the iceberg. Activists and experts suggest that the true scale of this crisis is likely much larger. Many victims do not report their ordeals to the police, either because they are unaware of the law’s protection or because they live in fear of their traffickers.
To add to this disturbing narrative, a report by the National Human Rights Commission paints a chilling picture. According to this report, a staggering 40,000 children are abducted in India every year, with a heart-wrenching 11,000 of them remaining untraced. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) estimate that each year, somewhere between 12,000 and 50,000 women and children are trafficked into India from neighboring nations, forced into a thriving sex trade that perpetuates this crisis.
Chandrayaan-3 and Menstrual health, any connection?
Contribution of women scientists in the success of Chandrayaan 3 project was used for reflectiong the paradox for menstrual taboos in some parts of India. The organisers of Puja realised that these taboos, take a heavy toll on women’s mental well-being and it is important to talk about the subject.
“The motive behind this theme is simple – spreading awareness,” says the organisers. “Today, women in India are leading the Chandrayaan 3 project, but sadly, in some parts of the country, we see menstruation as a taboo. It is extremely sad. A woman is made to go through a lot mentally. So our aim is to spread this awareness to as many people as possible.” The theme, ‘Ritumati’ (period of menstrual cycle), aiming to shed light on the issue often surrounded by silence and discomfort.
Menstrual Taboos in India
Dr. Bobby Luthra Sinha, who is a Social Anthropologist & Lead researcher for Menstrual hygiene at Sulabh Sanitation Mission Foundation, acknowledges that in urban areas, younger generations are becoming increasingly aware of menstrual hygiene and related issues. She’s equally concerned about the distant villages and rural areas where deeply entrenched taboos still persist.
Menstruation often carries stigmas and restrictions – women are barred from the kitchen, discouraged from sharing a bed with their husbands, and even forbidden from leaving their homes during their menstrual cycles. The lack of education on personal health and hygiene matters exacerbates the problem.
Dr Bobby, underscores different instances of this social taboo that has been built around menstruation. “Addressing menstrual challenges faced by school-going girls in remote areas is essential. The lack of proper WASH (water, Sanitation and Hygiene) facilities at schools often leads to poor academic performance, school dropouts, and early marriages. Moreover, when girls go to their in-laws, the taboo surrounding menstruation becomes even more pronounced, hindering open discussions,” maintained Dr Bobby.
Applauding the initiatives like residential schools in empowering girls, she says, “Residential schools in remote areas serve as agents of change. They provide a safe space for girls to discuss their concerns and build confidence, inadvertently breaking the menstrual taboo.”
Dr Bobby, who is also a Political scientist pointed out that these issues aren’t just social or personal; they have political implications. The absence of proper facilities for women in the workplace hinders their representation. Beyond urban spaces, consider women working in labor-intensive fields like sugarcane plantations. They often lack support and facilities during menstruation, leading to severe consequences. In some extreme cases, women resort to drastic measures like hysterectomies to escape the menstrual cycle, which poses significant health risks and hazards.
However, Dr Bobby highlights that “the moment we start talking about the issue, half of it actually gets solved, ” and steps of Puja Pandal underscores the transformative power of open conversations and education in breaking down taboos and addressing menstrual challenges faced by girls and women.