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Durga Ke?

by Team Expresso

‘Pujo Aasche!’… the phrase that brings more joy to the citizens of Kolkata than any other instance. Elated spirits and decked-up streets define a large part of one of India’s biggest festival – Durga Puja. A 5-day celebration of the homecoming of Goddess Durga, Pujo, as they commonly call it, is a beautiful confluence of tradition, hope, and joy.

Durga Ke?... a photo-series by Swastika Mukherjee, an actor in Indian Cinema, depicting the irony of today’s society. The series questions the conscience of the spectators with the rhetoric – Who is Durga? The one who you worship while simultaneously looking down on your daughters, wives, sisters and all womankind?

The hypocrisy of our Indian society is depicted through these ironic instances. The series is a portrayal of taboos, gleams of patriarchy and unrealistic beauty standards and more that the society has been feeding on for long.

With the onset of Mahalaya, the series begins with the first frame which is based on the unrealistic beauty standards set by the society where they worship Goddess Kali for her fierce, brave demeanour while scorning on females blessed with beautiful dark skin.

Why are the qualifications of a marriageable woman so demanding while all a man needs to be is ‘Be Available’_

The hypocrisy lies in this very fact that we believe and worship “Ma Kali” being the dark Avatar of “Durga Ma” but on the other hand we usually ignore or deprive the “dark people” from our community, though, going by the practices we should rather have given them a better position in the society.

But we tend to remain nonchalant about them and their existence. Does it have to be always necessary to consider and give a chance to those people who have some differences in melanin? How a skin colour can be a scale to justify one’s beauty or capabilities?

The Second Frame shows how women are treated merely as a commodity when it comes to marriage. Ever-so-demeaning matrimonial advertisements make women question their beautiful existence.

The irony of Goddess Kali – you revere her powers & glory while despising a woman of her colour_

A multitude of people want to get married with educated, tall, fair girls but no one ever wants a girl who is the purest human being from the heart even if she’s dark or short. We always give affirmation to materials or quantities which are relative instead of considering the actual and holy trait given by nature. Can a dark girl be able to stand parallel to the society and get treated the same as the fair ones?

And today, I open my arms for the one who sculpts your beliefs by lending a handful of Durga’s essence (soil), from the lanes of India’s oldest red light area, Sonagachi

The soil from Sonagachi has always been used to make ‘Durga’ idol. Sonagachi is mainly known as the abode for Prostitutes and is the oldest Red Light Area of West Bengal. While talking about their position in our society, their presence has always remained prohibited because of their profession. People can visit them during the dark hours but throw them away as soon as the day breaks. They refuse to accept them as a part of the society, considering them impure or rather dirty. But is it so? If it is, why is it that ‘Durga’ needs the soil from their land to get prepared and worshipped by the same people of the society who have an exponential hatred for prostitutes? In the Third Frame, the image depicted is that of a “normal” woman and sex-workers, smearing soil and sindoor on each other’s faces, reflecting their acceptance in the society.

The Fourth Frame captures the menstrual taboo the nation has been feeding on for long. We perform ‘Kumari Puja’ which states that a girl is in her purest form when she is way far from her puberty period.

Why worship me when I am 8 if you choose to restrict me when I am 28_ Is it my innocence that melts you or my feminity_ menstrual blood that scares you_

During her adolescent stage when she starts menstruating we consider that same girl impure and don’t allow her to enter into the temple premises during her periodic cycle. How while adorning the Goddess for the festivity, a kid is considered pure and worshipped while a young female is looked down upon because of a natural, humanely process Menstruation? Isn’t it ironical that the purest form of a girl disappears as soon as she starts maturing biologically?

We can carry different outfits as by our own choice. A girl can wear her outfit according to her workstations and their requirements, whether she is in an office or in a public place to cherish with her friends. She can be in formal attire like men in blazers and formal trousers but if a boy is willing to wear saree or other dresses meant to be only for women then why is he bullied and ostracized? Can’t he have his own choice to wear whatever he wants? The very same people who compliment a girl in a pantsuit will discourage and demoralize the boy who likes to wear girly dresses.

The Fifth Frame depicts gender fluidity showing two characters cross-dressed; the woman, dressed in a formal suit, while the boy dressed in a saree looks up to her wondering why is it hard for the society to accept him just the way they accept her!. If the society believes that God resides in each one of us, doesn’t Durga reside in a man who identifies himself as a woman?

Why seek her blessings on your child’s birth when you don’t intend to share your happiness with her_ I choose to break the barriers today and embrace her

The Sixth Frame honours the transgenders of the society who are not accepted by society. There is a strange apprehension, apathy towards them by the people all around. Transgenic mutations are common among the human kingdom. Instead of behaving politely to the hermaphrodites, we make fun of them. We mimic them. But when the babies are born, we become so concerned about the baby to get blessed by these androgynous people. Neither they are harmful nor are they nefarious. Our society, our beliefs have been dooming them since ages.

Why does the idea of a woman, by birth or by choice, dressing in a saree or a suit, makes you want to judge her existence_

There’s a sharp difference between boys and girls. Boys are less questioned by their parents compared to girls. Girls have had more restrictions, more limitations than boys. The Seventh Frame speaks vividly of the shackles of patriarchy where a man and a woman returning home at odd hours are treated differently. The men are being celebrated for this hard work while the women are being looked mysteriously at, with doubt & disgust.

You call a pregnant woman weak and fragile while she’s preparing to perform the most powerful act that exists – Childbirth_

The Eighth and the last Frame is a fierce portrayal of today’s woman who isn’t afraid of anyone, anything. This working woman stands in parity with other men and is respected and honoured for her qualifications, virtues, and talent. At the same time, has to deal with the family and social expectations. The triumph of womanhood all around is portrayed through this photograph where we show a would-be mother dressed in a suit conforming to her professional duties. The series is a thought-provoking, emotion-instilling and heart-warming portrayal of womankind across the nation, how ironic the society is while intriguing the viewers with a rhetorical – Who is Durga? 

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