Idle idol makers of Delhi

Absent workers and ban on public celebration kill idol makers’ business

Society

August 20, 2020

/ By / New Delhi



idol maker

Kanta Bhati is a single mother of two who makes idols for Ganesh Chaturthi and Durga Puja every year (MIG photos/Aman Kanojia)

August is normally the busiest time for idol makers in India as the festival season is just around the corner. Idol makers would be busy giving final touches to their Ganesha or even Durga idols around this time. But this year their livelihood is in peril due to Covid19 pandemic, ban on immersion of idols and public celebrations.

“We did not make a single sale over the past four months due to the lockdown. I had hoped to earn some money during Ganesh Chaturthi. Based on orders that we had received, we prepared idols worth INR 60,000-70,000, like every year. However, the ban on immersion of idols in the Yamuna and restriction on public celebration led to cancellation of almost all orders. We have already invested a lot of money, time and efforts on preparing idols which are six to seven feet tall but there’s nobody to buy these. We also have to repay a loan of INR 2,00,000 that has accumulated from the previous year,” says Lakshmi Mangal, 27, an idol maker who lives in a make shift hut near Jasola metro station in southern New Delhi.

Mangal and her husband, along with their four children, are involved in making idols. Mangal explains that since the pandemic hit India, her family has barely managed to feed themselves with the savings they had. She had also taken a loan of INR 2,00,000 for her family’s daily expenses and to buy raw materials for making idols.

idol maker of delhi

By mid-August, idol makers would have sold almost all of their idols of Ganesha and would have been working on idols of Durga, for Durga Puja festival due in October

By mid-August, idol makers would have sold almost all of their idols of Ganesha and would have been working on idols of Durga, for Durga Puja festival due in October. But like the rest of the economy, this year Covid-19 pandemic has killed the season as sales have dropped dramatically and the order book is almost empty, pushing the community of idol makers deep into debt just so they could sustain themselves and their families.

“As making idols requires a lot of initial investment for raw materials like clay, colours, artificial jewellery and other items for decoration, I had to take a loan from the suppliers of these materials. As I haven’t been able to repay them, the amount of debt is increasing. On top of that, this year, I had to spend twice of what I usually pay for raw materials as the cost of travel and transportation has increased due to lack of public transport services,” explains Mangal.

A few steps away from Mangal, is Kanta Bhati’s make-shift hut, similar to Mangal’s. Bhati is a single mother of two who makes idols for Ganesh Chaturthi and Durga Puja every year. Bhati says that if it were not for a few local NGOs that provided rations, her children would have starved during the four months of lockdown.

“I make idols during festival seasons and sell earthen utensils and toys on a cart for the rest of the year. As the lockdown didn’t allow any sale of utensils and toys, I had to exhaust my savings for sustaining my family. An NGO provided me with some rice, wheat and basic food staples that saved my children from starving,” she says.

She also says that local police often harasses her family and threatens to destroy their hut. “Though I am hardly able to manage meals for my family, I have to pay the local police a share of whatever little I earn weekly,” adds Bhati.

Govind Nath says that demand for idols has decreased to less than half and he doubts if it will increase during Dussehra festival

Another idol maker, Govid Nath, 49, works under a shed in Kali temple, south-eastern Delhi. Nath says he has been making idols of deities since decades now. “I have been here since I was a kid. My family has been making idols in this part of the temple since generations. Unfortunately, for the first time, due to Covid-19 pandemic, I feel doubtful about the number of idols I would be able to sell. I don’t expect to sell as many as previous year.”

Nath goes on to say “I am making small Ganesha idols for people who want to put them up in their homes during Ganesh Chaturthi. But I don’t know if I should make a few big ones for the pandals (stages).”

“All my workers have gone back to their villages in West Bengal. They went back during the lockdown and have not returned. I cannot afford to hire any new workers either. Demand for idols has decreased to less than half and I doubt if it will increase during Dussehra festival,” wonders Nath.

Nath, Bhati and Mangal are but only three of thousands of families that depend solely on idol making for their sustenance. Any assistance from the government is far from their reach. Idol makers, whose fine craftsmanship has been the highlight of all religious festivities for centuries, suffer in silence for their daily bread.

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