The indefinite strike in the hills for the past two months has made the Durga Puja celebrations in September-end uncertain. With no sign of the shutdown being called off, most of the Durga Puja organizers in the hills have either cancelled the plans for the Puja or have decided to hold it in a small way. The Durga Puja, the biggest festival of Bengal, is scheduled to be held from September 26-30. The indefinite shutdown in the hills, which started on June 15 over the demand of separate state of Gorkhaland, entered its 74th day today.
According to the officials of the Bengali association, Kurseong, which has been organizing Durga Puja at the century old Raj Rajeswari Hall for the past one hundred years, the budget for organizing Durga Puja has been slashed. The British era heritage Hall run by the association was set ablaze by miscreants in July. “Initially we had decided against organizing the Puja this year, as there was a lot of uncertainty. We are yet to place the order to make the Durga idol. So this time we’ll organize it in a very small way. We have to make a marquee and the Durga idol will be much smaller in size,” a member of the association told PTI. None of the members of the association wished to be named as they are afraid of backlash from pro-Gorkhaland activists.
Subhomoy Chatterjee, a member of Bengali association, Darjeeling said “this year we’ll be organizing Durga Puja, but our budget is low, as neither have we collected Puja subscription from the locals nor has any proper sponsor. Initially, we had thought that we would cancel the Puja as there was a lot of threats, but later we have decided that we’ll organize it in a small way,” The Bengali association in Darjeeling has been organising the Puja at the Nipendra Narayan Bengali Hindu hall for the past one hundred years. The total number of Durga Puja organized in various parts of the hills is around 10-15. Apart from these two century old Durga Puja in the hills, most of the other small Puja committees have decided against organizing a Puja to avoid the ire of Pro-Gorkhaland supporters and due to lack of preparation that is needed to organize the five-day long festival.
“This time we are not at all prepared to organize a Puja. Let’s see if the shutdown is called off in the next one week, we might plan something,” said a member of Puja committee of Kalimpong. Contrary to the Durga Puja celebrations in the plains, where most of the Pujas are theme based, Durga Puja in the hills are organized in a traditional way. Senior GJM leader and Darjeeling MLA Amar Singh Rai, too was apprehensive about the fate of Durga Puja in the hills. “I really don’t know whether it will be organized or not. But I am hopeful that it will be organized in a small way. And I’ll extend all sort of support to organize it,” Rai said.