Kolkata: West Bengal is known for hosting out-of-the-world Puja Pandal themes, but there are some sensitive pandal stories too. One puja pandal is the one organised at Balurghat Central Correctional Home. The Durga idol has been made here by the inmates themselves. And this year a person convicted under the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act has made it.
The single-structure idol has been made by potter Raju Sarkar, once imprisoned in the same home along with others. However, he prefers not to remember his uneventful past, for which he had to spend with five other prisoners there. His idols are now being worshiped at Balurghat correctional home for the past four years.
At present, however, Sarkar, 32, has been out on parole for the last five years.
As Durga Puja is one of the biggest festivals for Bengalis, the prison home authorities started the practice of celebrating Durga Puja a few years ago, which they felt will be a welcome diversion from the sombre mental condition of the prisoners. The inmates missed the celebrations during the Puja days.
Earlier, the Puja used to be performed in a smaller way, but since 2016, the Puja celebration inside the correctional home got bigger with bigger idols of the goddess being worship inside the premise.
Raju Sarkar, a resident of Sherpur in Buniadpur of South Dinajpur district, was brought to the correctional home in 2016. He then started making idols of Goddess Durga inside the penitentiary, praying for relief from the misfortune of his life. Sarkar is paid a minimum honorarium for his work, said the jail officials.
In the words of the artist, he got bail only after that. Not only that, he was later acquitted of all the charges levelled against him. Now, however, Sarkar is called by the Balurghat Central Correctional Home authorities every year to make the idol on the eve of Sharadotsav.
However, not inside the penitentiary at present, this year Sarkar has already started work on the single-structure idol at his home.
The idol will be of shoal pith, with a sabekiana (traditional type) imprint. Such an initiative by the authorities to make the prisoners happy within the four walls of the penitentiary has garnered much praise from the common people as well.
At present, the number of residential prisoners at Balurghat correctional home is 702, of which 101 are women and 6 are children. The authorities of the correctional home have made special arrangements keeping in mind the resident prisoners of the correctional facility during this year’s Durga Puja.
It is learned that the correctional facility authorities have already commissioned a contractor to provide new saris for the female prisoners of the home and new clothes for the children of the female prisoners. Work on the making of the pandal for the Puja has also started within the prison walls.
Besides, preparations have already started to decorate the buildings of the penitentiary with lights on the occasion of Durga Puja.
On Navami and Vijaya Dashami day, cultural programmes are lined up. A special menu for the resident prisoners will be laid out during Puja days, said a home official. The costs for the Puja are borne by the inmates.
Explaining how the inmates organize the funds, the officer said, “These inmates are served mutton once a week. They do not eat it and save it for the Puja. The money saved on meat is substantial, which they spend during the Puja. They only keep the accounts with them. We only assist them.”
The home official said, “He did not commit the crime as such. It is a case of being falsely implicated. He is not somebody who would commit such a heinous crime.”
Talking of the mental makeup of the inmates, he said, “These men and women also feel very strongly about Durga Puja. Hindu and Muslims celebrate and work with equal fervor to make the festivities successful. Muslim inmates can be seen decorating and helping out their Hindu mates and also members of the Puja committee. There is no communal divide.”
Nabin Kujur, superintendent of the home said a total budget of around Rs 4.5 lakh has been set up for the current year. He said the prisoners used to feel left out during the Puja days. “To lighten the mood and create a positive atmosphere, we also started a recreational programme too,” Kujur said.
Ujjal Biswas, minister, department of correctional administration, says the effort of the government is to bring a change in the life of lifers. “The Balurghat event is not an isolated instance. I have been to one home, where lifers made a pandal out of patkathi (jute wood). At another home, I saw the inmates making an idol out of all the daily-use items. They have their creativity and they are trying to transform their lives,” he told to eNewsroom.
The minister says the government inspires them so that “an idle brain does not become a devil’s workshop”.
“For the lifers, this is a very good way to find happiness. Many of the inmates are in their homes on parole and they also spend their time constructively, they know they will come out soon. But for lifers it is tough. If they do good work then they will get remission. This always plays at the back of their minds,” said minister Biswas.
Entrepreneur Chaitali Das, whose internationally known Rakshak Foundation works closely with inmates, feels strongly for the socially-deprived lot. “The inmates are very meticulous about any work given to them as they want to get acceptance from the society through their work. It is very unfortunate that even after being out of prison they are not accepted by their own family, let alone society. It is very important that we make them feel inclusive or else they will again go back to crime. Through their economic independence, they feel empowered,” informed Das.