Kolkata: The vibrant and stylised masks worn by practitioners of Chhau, the famed tribal martial dance from West Bengal’s Purulia, will adorn deities at a Durga puja here, organisers said on Saturday, hoping the look will “awe” visitors.
One of the biggest festivals of eastern India begins on October 19 and organisers are gearing up to put up their best displays to celebrate the homecoming of Goddess Durga and her family.
Members of the Ajeya Sanghati club in south Kolkata are going with the Chhau dance masks (that extend to several feet) to decorate the deities instead of the elegant shola-pith (sponge wood) ornaments and crowns.
“We are using the colourful masks as the look of our deities. In addition, episodes from the Ramayana will be narrated through giant Chhau masks,” Aparna Bose, a member of the club’s organising committee, said.
Many dance numbers are based on episodes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana. The depiction of birds and animals is a distinctive feature of the masks.
She said around 25 artists from Purulia were in Kolkata to craft the masks and sculptures.
“At the entrance, a Jatayu sculpture standing tall at 45 feet will greet visitors. The rest of the figures and masks are of similar height. The overall feel will be that of a shocking display of colours and we hope it awes visitors,” Bose added.
Kolkata has witnessed a string of hooliganism related incidents in recent months, with its long time denizens putting the blame on rising communalism, strained socio-political conditions and a lackadaisical attitude of the administration in catching or punishing the ruffians.
While many of the violent incidents in Kolkata can be attributed to the political tension between Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress and its main challenger the BJP, a few occurrences like lynching of a suspected thief or attack on the junior doctors of a renowned state-run hospital in the heart of the city have shaken the city’s collective consciousness.
On June 5, a mob allegedly beat a man to death inside a club in central Kolkata’s Maniktala after they suspected him as a thief. In March, a 70-year-old man was allegedly beaten to death by a mob on a similar suspicion.
On June 10, two truckloads of people attacked Kolkata’s state-run NRS Medical College and Hospital and brutally beat up the intern doctors, thereafter an altercation broke out between the doctors and the patient party over a man’s death.
Two junior doctors sustained serious injuries, while several others were hurt as the mob pelted stones. The junior doctors alleged that the police personnel stood as mute witness as the attackers went on the rampage. This incident led to a week-long strike by junior medicos across the state and triggered protests by doctors all over the country.
The plight of the doctors moved the city’s eminent people, with the likes of acclaimed director Aparna Sen, painter Samir Aich, musicians Debojyoti Mishra and Anupam Roy walking alongside the medics in a protest rally.
The attack on former Miss India Universe Ushoshi Sengupta by a group of youths in their early 20s, who tried to vandalise her cab and beat up the driver earlier this week, has highlighted the underlying unrest within the society and the vulnerability of the citizens on the roads.
What was more disturbing, the cops – instead of helping out a woman in distress around midnight – made Sengupta run from one police station to another citing the issue of jurisdiction. Describing the incident as “scary and heartbreaking”, Sengupta said it would have been better had the police taken action before her social media post went viral.
“The boys followed us till my colleague’s house and right when we were dropping him near Lake Gardens Government housing, six of the boys in three bikes came and stopped my car, threw stones and broke the car. They dragged me out and tried to break my phone to delete the video,” the model-actress said.
“The experience with the police on the night of the incident was a little heartbreaking. After my Facebook post went viral, top police officers got in touch with me and took prompt action against the offenders. Had they shown this promptness during the incident, it would have been better,” she said.
Within a week of the incident, another young woman travelling in an app based cab was chased by a middle aged person in his car. This time, the accused was promptly arrested by the police. However, in stark contrast, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics for 2016 (the latest report available) had portrayed Kolkata as one of the safest cities for women in the country, even as Bengal recorded the highest number of cases of domestic violence.
The city is ranked 17th in terms of crime (the top place going to the state with the worst record) against women among the 19 megacities in the country, and recorded only 4 per cent of the cases but West Bengal recorded the highest numbers of domestic violence cases against women in 2016.
According to retired IPS officer Md Nizam Shamim, hooliganism is rising as the criminals are getting adequate backing from political outfits. “It is true that the hooliganism in Kolkata and Bengal is rising. According to the media reports it is evident that communal tension, which was never an issue in West Bengal, has now become almost a day to day affair. Naturally, such issues happening around Kolkata, has its effects on the city,” Shamim told IANS.
“When I was working here as a police officer, we acted against the criminals in general but no distinction was made between Hindu criminals and Muslim criminals. But now certain political powers are highlighting this divide. As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult for the lawmakers to take action as criminals get political backing,” he said.
He said the administration needs to be more active in tracking the hooligans, take action against them while sensitising the youths about the impact of breaking law.
“Also a list of the local criminals and hoodlums were kept at the police stations and they were kept under strict police vigil. I do not know whether today’s officers are doing that. Unless you can cut the source of bombs and arms, such incidents of violence will continue to happen.”
“A section of youths are becoming increasingly reckless due to lack of education and jobs. I see so many of them roaming around in two wheelers without helmets every day. Many indulge in anti-social activities. The police needs to watch them and discourage them from breaking laws,” he added.
Theatre personality Chandan Sen said hooliganism has been on the rise due to the lack of a proper machinery to control the situation.
“Hooliganism is rampant since the last few years. It is increasing fast as there is no machinery in place to stop it. The saddest part is that the political forces are either blind to such incidents or they are catering to the offenders. As a result, it is on the rise,” Sen told IANS.
He said Kolkata had a heritage of togetherness, where people of a certain locality used to be together putting aside caste or communal differences which has now disappeared.
“Also, there are forces giving hooliganism a communal tone and people are falling prey to it. Hooligans do not have a religion. They are criminals. Violence was there in Kolkata even during the Naxalite movement. But at that time it was based on ideological battles between political parties but now it has become a fight to capture power. That’s why people have lost faith in political parties and this helplessness is giving birth to the unrest,” Sen added.
For box –
Recents incidents reported in Kolkata
*February 21: Woman attacked and severely beaten up by locals in Howrah’s Tikiapara near Kolkata on suspicion of child lifting. Locals clashed with police when they tried to rescue her and vandalised police vehicles.
*February 23: A man was beaten up by a mob in North Kolkata’s Phoolbagan on suspicion of him being a child-lifter. Police rescued the victim. 17 persons arrested.
*March (date not confirmed): A 70-year-old man beaten to death in central Kolkata on suspicion of theft.
*March 21: Homeless man killed by a miscreant inside a godown in Charu Market police station area for trying to stop him from stealing cell phones from two young kids.
*April 30: Man beaten to death by construction site staffers for allegedly stealing cell phone in Pragati Maidan police station area. Six arrested.
*June 5: A mob allegedly beat a 36-year-old man to death inside a club in central Kolkata’s Maniktala after they suspected him of theft. Three arrested.
*June10: Two truckloads of people attacked Kolkata’s state-run NRS Medical College and Hospital and brutally beat up the intern doctors there after an old patient’s death. One doctor sustained serious skull injury. Five arrested.