I come from Pune, a city I had the privilege of calling ‘home’ all my life till now. So no points for guessing that Ganpati happens to be my favourite festival! The festive spirit, the energy and positive vibes, the decorations, the food, the dhol patakhas … it’s magical! Basically, Ganpati is to me what Pujo is to Bongs! During those 10 days, nothing else matters, unless of course it’s our Prime Minister advertising for Reliance Jio.
One of my field areas with my work with my host organization Jan Sahas is a tribal belt, Bagh. A 5-hour journey from Dewas, we leave at 7 am only to return by 8 pm. I’ve got no complaints because this is the straight-from-a-Karan-Johar-movie-view I enjoy during the 10-hour bum-numbing drive.
Bagh is inhabited by a tribal community. A quick walk around the place and I understood “unexplored” is sometimes a nicer word we use (to convince ourselves?) for a place which has no means whatsoever, where all students go home barefoot during the 10 minute break to get books, because they can carry only so many in the first place without a bag. Interestingly, this same place serves as the biggest and only market for bare necessities for the surrounding dozen villages. Unexplored or just ignored?
During my last visit to Bagh, I witnessed free distribution of Ganesha idols to the locals. The pandals and colourful bappa momentarily took me back home, where preparations start a good one month before the actual festival. “Inko hamare bhagwan se bhi dikkat hai!”, said my colleague … and I was back at reality land, where all is not so colourful.
Probably it was my expression of disbelief or my sudden silence, my colleague took cue and explained that this distribution happens every year. The locals know nothing about Lord Ganesha or the essence of this festival. They are merely given the idols and festivities are arranged for. None of these ‘organisers’ are seen during the worshiping of the local God, the community actually knows and more importantly believes in. If you are weak-hearted, easily offended or can’t handle truth, stop reading now. Caste discrimination is very real. It happens. Yes, even today in the 21st century and not just in villages but also in ‘urban’ towns and cities. Most are probably unaware because it’s not as apparent as the ‘lower castes’ having to tie brooms to their waists to prevent their shadows falling on the streets or wearing jugs to ensure their saliva does not touch the ground. This has stopped (thank God?).
Discrimination, however, is still practiced. The ways have become subtler, their repercussions just as sharp and piercing. If the local God was unable to surpass the system, who are we puny, insignificant mortals! These people have nothing, but faith. We’ve managed to snatch that too. They lived when we told them you are not good enough, how are they to survive knowing the only thing that got them through, their gods, aren’t good enough either? And all this in the name of equality. I was quiet for the entire ride back. A part of me had changed. Forever. Those colourful happy memories triggered the moment I heard Bappa, now share space with a grimmer reality. A reality, I work to change.
Ganpati Bappa Morya, Pudchya Varshi Nako Yaa!