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Tripura: Clay artisans see livelihood shaved off amid COVID-19 pandemic

Clay artisan Chandan Biswas of Agartala in Tripura was optimistic that he would get some contract of idols for the upcoming Durga puja in a few days despite there are restrictions on organising mass gatherings and religious rituals due to COVID-19.

Sat on his rickety old stool in front of his studio at Netaji Chowmuhani of Agartala—where he had been working since he achieved young hood, Chandan was steadfast to get some buyers out of his belief that people might leave other activities but would never leave worshipping.

Certain relaxations granted easing the access to temples and other religious places further strengthen his confidence. But, in reality, since last three months he was left jobless and he was meeting his daily expenses as well as the families of his workers on the money he managed to get in lieu of some valuables.

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“This has been three months and from now my most difficult task will be to run business. Since I have an established business infrastructure, I never faced any hurdles to take up money from the markets or private financers in interest. Almost every year, before the month Chaitra (The last month of Bengali calendar), I lend some money from private financiers to stockpile raw materials as the Puja season begins with the arrival of Baisakha. But, this year, the situation turned highly volatile for us”, said Biswas.

Not only Biswas, but there are also more than 1,000 clay artisans in the state who are dependent on idol making. By this time of the year, every big studio of the state used to be filled with raw materials and a huge number of artisans coming from all across the state including “Kumartuli”—West Bengal. This year, the artisans arrived in time, raw materials were stuffed in the warehouses but the COVID-19 induced lockdown kept all the buyers away from the idol makers.

“All the major clubs of the city would have already placed orders, even in some places erection of Puja pandals also would have started if the lockdown is not there. In earlier years, the clubs use to call us for bookings and this year we are calling them without any positive response”, Biswas added.

Uttam Chakraborty, who is known to be one of the best idol artists of the state having excelled his art in supervision of expertise clay artisan of “Kumartuli” said, the government needs to intervene and assure them some loan for their sustenance.

Chakraborty said, “Every year, I use to sell 80 to 90 idols of Bipadnashini Devi. Only few days are left, but only few idols are there. I have made some idols at my own risk to play the last bit, but the Puja season is expected to be dull this year”.

The All Tripura Mrittika Shilpi Samity, an organization of clay artists had already placed a memorandum to the chief minister and sought appointment. The association was also trying to catch up with Education Minister Ratan Lal Nath for a detailed meeting on the issue. Chakraborty who held the President’s chair of the association also said that it was for the first time when they were seeking help from the government.

“A Puja gives the markets a shining look. Our business also runs on people’s devotion towards the lord. It is perhaps for the first time; people are fearing to organize a small gathering. It is important for the government to assist us in this crisis,” Chakraborty said.

On being asked specifically on the demands, he said, they have only one demand—arrangement of a special low-interest loan system for the people associated with clay art and which could be easily returned after everything settles down.

It is pertinent to mention that the state has registered 1046 confirmed COVID-19 cases; of which 730 are active and 315 have cured and discharged and one died due to the infection.

The country is currently under Unlock 1.0, enforced on June 1st, 2020. The first phase of the nationwide lockdown was enforced by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 25th, 2020 to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 initially for 21 days, which was later extended. The country has cross 320K mark on June 14th, 2020 as far as confirmed COVID-19 cases are concerned.

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