A pouch of soil from a sex-workers’ courtyard in the city sells for Rs 20. After a stiff resistance put up by the sex-workers against taking soil from their doorstep for making Durga idols, the priests and the idol-makers are on the way to obliterate the age-old tradition completely. However, those who cannot do away with it can buy it from pan-shops near Sonagachi.
The sex-workers had first protested against this ritual six years ago. The protest first started in Sonagachi grew in magnitude with time and spread to other red-light areas of the city like Bowbazar and Kalighat.
While the priest continue to murmur dissatisfaction with the way events have unfolded in the past couple of years, artisans have parted with it for good as they feel it was too much of a hassle.
But some people who organise barir puja, especially outside the city limits, still look for the soil. This condition has triggered sale of pouches that contain soil stolen from sex-workers’ courtyard. These pouches are available on request at the pan shops near the area and the price is negotiable.
Mr Mitra who had come from Bira, a village in North 24-Parganas, said: “We hold Durga puja in our house. Earlier, somebody or the other used to get us the soil. But this year, nobody managed to get it.” He said he had to go to Sonagachi himself but failed to procure the soil. “Tired of going door-to-door when I stopped to have cold-drink at a pan shop, the shop owner asked me what I was looking for and directed me to another shop where I got a pouch of soil,” he added. Mr Mitra had to buy that pouch for Rs 20.
The sex-workers had stopped giving soil from their doorstep to protest against the social stigma they are inflicted with. “You make the Durga idol with the soil from our door-step and when we come to the puja pandal, you chase us out. It is because people consider us nothing more than insects,” said Sushma, a sex-worker. She said that earlier she used to feel proud when the artisans used to come to get the soil. But she gradually realised that this was to mark them as fallen-women and further alienate them. “It is so hypocritical, once in a year, people shower us with respect by asking for soil form our courtyard while on other days we are treated like animals,” she added.
Ms Bharati Dey, secretary of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, said they had to chase away a priest from Krishnanagar in Nadia, who had come to steal soil early in the morning. “The ritual belongs to the period when sex-workers were highly respected in the society. Just look at how we are treated today,” she added.