In a significant attempt to highlight the struggle of sex workers, a Durga Puja Pandal in Kolkata, the 'Ahiritola Jubakbrinda Durga Puja Pandal', has been inspired by Asia's largest red-light area, Sonagachi in West Bengal. It has been conceptualized for bringing awareness regarding the lives of these women and the dire consequences which pushed them into this profession.
The pathway to the main pandal leads through a series of colourful artworks. The 300-foot long graffiti showcases the story of a sex worker - their everyday lives, their profession, their hardships and their miseries. It has been made by numerous sex workers of the area, who are trying to break the shackles of this profession and speak up regarding the hushed subject. The murals and art pieces bring forth the anguish and the subdued trauma of these women.
One of the paintings presents these women peeking from slightly ajar doors, aspiring for the free world outside. A person can vividly feel the sadness in their eyes and the invisible ties binding them to this life. Despite the physical and mental pain that they have to go through, these sex workers are supposed to be tight-lipped about their misery.
Some women have to enter the profession due to the problems at their home. Unable to do anything to improve their conditions, they keep persevering throughout their lives despite the desire to break free. Other caricatures sketch the vicious circle of money that is involved in the buying and selling of young girls. These girls are crying out for help but to no avail.
The theme of the pandal is “Utsarito Alo”, which literally translates to ‘Spread Light’. It is reminiscent of a lyrical piece by Rabindranath Tagore - ‘Ondhokarer Utsho Hote Utsharito Alo’ which means 'Radiating light from the source of darkness'. The words resonate strongly with the topic being talked about - prostitution.
The song is a Bengali composition by the Nobel Laureate, the English translation of which reads:
The light radiate from the centre of darkness
That is thy glow.
The goodness that originates from all conflicts
That is thy goodness.
Home, that lay flat upon the street dust
That is thy home.
The violent love that inflicts war and makes undying
That is thy affection.
The invisible gift that waits after stocks exhaust
That is thy gift.
Life that cradles death on its own
That is thy life.
Dusty ground that lie beneath the world populace
That is thy heaven.
You, who conceals yourself despite being universal
That is thee for me.
The subject of prostitution is a taboo in society. However, the complete set-up, along with paintings, props, and various installations attempts to ''spread light'' upon the hidden parts of the lives of these sex workers. It hopes to bring the much-needed recognition of the rights which these sex workers are entitled to, but are often overlooked or disregarded.