Women in Business: Where are the Women Artisans at Kumartuli?

October 23, 2015 Written By Toonika Guha

Any self-respecting, Durga-puja celebrating Bengali will know that Kumartuli, nestled in the by-lanes of Kolkata is where the magic happens prior to Durga puja. It is the neighbourhood where Kolkata’s craftsmen shed blood and sweat to create the gorgeous idols around which Durga Puja is celebrated.

women-in-business-women-artisians-kumartulli

Image Source

At Kumartuli, this business has generally been relegated to the men. For decades, this profession has been dominated by male artisans. This male domination is laid down in religious and cultural tradition where, according to legend, the male artisan must seek ‘pure’ soil from a prostitute in order to create an idol. Thus, although in most traditions creation is a task attributed to women; this craft has remained male dominated.

Hence, When a transgender community of North Kolkata decided to break with tradition in many aspects, they decided that they wanted their idol to be crafted by a female craftsperson. This is when they sought out the only female idol-maker in Kumartuli. Meet China Pal, a female crafts person dabbling in a world dominated by men. Our correspondent, Rounak Saha had a chat with her in order to find out what makes her tick and what it means to be a female craftsperson in India. The following is an excerpt of the interview with her.

 

 

Rounak – “How difficult is it for a female to start idol making at Kumartuli which is so dominated by men?”

China- “It is a very struggling business and one has to spend a lot initially”

Rounak- “What if a female has the funding to start a business such as yours, will she be accepted?”

China- “I can’t comment on that. All I can say is that when my father passed away, his customers placed orders at my workshop without any fear. I am very grateful to them. If I were to place an order myself, I would always look at the artist’s previous works and experience. But my customers trusted me blindly”

Although Pal does not identify any issues as a female artisan herself, she does attribute her success to the fact that her father was in the business before her. While this may hint to the reason behind the lack of women in the industry who have no background, it still leaves many questions unanswered about the position of women in such a male dominated industry. However, the fact that her father’s customer’s place their trust in her points to the changing scenario in the industry. In fact, this year she had a bustling list of orders, a fact she alludes to when asked about her association with the Durga puja celebrated by the transgender community (Udyami Yubak Brinda Puja Committee).

Rounak – “Why did you accept the Ardhanarishwar murti order? Was it just another idol for you or did it mean something?”

China – “In my studio there is only One Chali Protima and this idol is no different from that. My studio was packed with order when they came to me. But I still took their order. It was the last order I took this year”

Rounak – “Did you have any idea about the impact of this idol that you are crafting?”

China – “No I had no idea at all. But I have never done an Ardhanarishwar idol before. I kept thinking how it will turn out be? How I will explain it to the public et cetera. But, now I see I don’t even have to explain. They are getting it by themselves. I think the idol has turned out well”

Rounak – “Did you face any difficulties or any form of obstruction from the locals?”

China- “No I have not received any criticisms of that sort. But people close to me or not that close to me are seeing the idol. They are clicking pictures. What they are talking about is completely unknown to me. I am doing my own work.”

Although Pal may be consciously unaware of it, it seems like it has been a great Durga Puja in terms of gender inclusivity. The very fact that an artisan took such an order on, while there have been debates around the creation of an Ardhnareshwari idol, is a clear signifier of changes happening in the positive direction for a festival which is as social as it is religious.

Women in Business: Where are the Women Artisans at Kumartuli?

October 23, 2015 Written By Toonika Guha

Any self-respecting, Durga-puja celebrating Bengali will know that Kumartuli, nestled in the by-lanes of Kolkata is where the magic happens prior to Durga puja. It is the neighbourhood where Kolkata’s craftsmen shed blood and sweat to create the gorgeous idols around which Durga Puja is celebrated.

women-in-business-women-artisians-kumartulli

Image Source

At Kumartuli, this business has generally been relegated to the men. For decades, this profession has been dominated by male artisans. This male domination is laid down in religious and cultural tradition where, according to legend, the male artisan must seek ‘pure’ soil from a prostitute in order to create an idol. Thus, although in most traditions creation is a task attributed to women; this craft has remained male dominated.

Hence, When a transgender community of North Kolkata decided to break with tradition in many aspects, they decided that they wanted their idol to be crafted by a female craftsperson. This is when they sought out the only female idol-maker in Kumartuli. Meet China Pal, a female crafts person dabbling in a world dominated by men. Our correspondent, Rounak Saha had a chat with her in order to find out what makes her tick and what it means to be a female craftsperson in India. The following is an excerpt of the interview with her.

 

 

Rounak – “How difficult is it for a female to start idol making at Kumartuli which is so dominated by men?”

China- “It is a very struggling business and one has to spend a lot initially”

Rounak- “What if a female has the funding to start a business such as yours, will she be accepted?”

China- “I can’t comment on that. All I can say is that when my father passed away, his customers placed orders at my workshop without any fear. I am very grateful to them. If I were to place an order myself, I would always look at the artist’s previous works and experience. But my customers trusted me blindly”

Although Pal does not identify any issues as a female artisan herself, she does attribute her success to the fact that her father was in the business before her. While this may hint to the reason behind the lack of women in the industry who have no background, it still leaves many questions unanswered about the position of women in such a male dominated industry. However, the fact that her father’s customer’s place their trust in her points to the changing scenario in the industry. In fact, this year she had a bustling list of orders, a fact she alludes to when asked about her association with the Durga puja celebrated by the transgender community (Udyami Yubak Brinda Puja Committee).

Rounak – “Why did you accept the Ardhanarishwar murti order? Was it just another idol for you or did it mean something?”

China – “In my studio there is only One Chali Protima and this idol is no different from that. My studio was packed with order when they came to me. But I still took their order. It was the last order I took this year”

Rounak – “Did you have any idea about the impact of this idol that you are crafting?”

China – “No I had no idea at all. But I have never done an Ardhanarishwar idol before. I kept thinking how it will turn out be? How I will explain it to the public et cetera. But, now I see I don’t even have to explain. They are getting it by themselves. I think the idol has turned out well”

Rounak – “Did you face any difficulties or any form of obstruction from the locals?”

China- “No I have not received any criticisms of that sort. But people close to me or not that close to me are seeing the idol. They are clicking pictures. What they are talking about is completely unknown to me. I am doing my own work.”

Although Pal may be consciously unaware of it, it seems like it has been a great Durga Puja in terms of gender inclusivity. The very fact that an artisan took such an order on, while there have been debates around the creation of an Ardhnareshwari idol, is a clear signifier of changes happening in the positive direction for a festival which is as social as it is religious.

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