Uttam Sengupta, Chattogram Bureau, bdnews24.com
The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to artisan pottery. A vast majority of the factories are facing work-order cancellations while many have been denied payment.
With the income drying up, workers are now staring at an uncertain future.
The Bangla calendar is used for scheduling Hindu festivals such as pujas. Workers usually start the process of making idols for pujas in the month of Baishakh. However, most of them are now unemployed due to a shortage of work at the factories.
A large number of the hereditary idol makers in Chattogram hail from the greater Faridpur region. Most of the employees working in idol-making factories are from Shariatpur, Netrokona and Faridpur. The workers had moved backed to their homes at the start of the coronavirus outbreak in March.
The arrangements for Basanti Puja were spoiled by the virus with the organisers cancelling the work orders. Now, potters are in a quandary over the upcoming Durga Puja.
"We need the guidance of the government and the puja committee on whether the Durga Puja will be organised this year or not,” Ratan Pal, president of the Chattogram Potters Association, told bdnews24.com.
The lion's share of workers' earnings is generated during the Durga Puja festival.
"Nowadays, we work throughout the year but this year has been an exception,: said Ratan.
“Basanti Puja was cancelled. Afterwards, there has not been any work for four months. The savings are also about to run out. What will happen to us if no pujas are held?”
While preparations for Durga Puja start in Baishakh, other idols and statues are sculpted throughout the year, according to the potter of Chattogram.
Sujan Pal crafts idols in the Sadarghat area of Chattogram. At least 15 employees work in their family factory.
“Some paid small sums in advance for the Basanti Puja idols but many others did not. The money was to be paid on delivery. But eventually nobody took the idols and we suffered a lot as a result.”
The bulk of the income is typically made at this time of the year and there would be no time to breathe at the factory, said Sujan. But the picture is completely different this time.
“There is usually a lot of work orders at this time of the year. However, we have not received any so far this year. The future looks very bleak and I don't know what is going to happen.”
“Many people usually work in our factory at this time. But currently we only have one worker at the factory. We have not received any instructions on whether Durga Puja will be held or not. I cannot ask the workers to come to the factory in this situation. Besides, I am terrified. I will put the workers at the risk of infection by calling them to Chattogram. I am also fearing a big financial loss.”
Amal Pal, a senior artisan from Chattogram, also reiterated the same view.
He received orders to make 17 idols for this year's Basanti Puja but only managed to sell two for domestic worship. The rest of the orders were cancelled.
“I have wasted a lot of money in making Basanti Puja idols. Thinking that the situation will improve, I paid about Tk 400,000 in workers' salary in three months. Later, I was forced to send the workers back home.”
"The workers keep calling us for money. Even though there is no work, we have to help them in various ways."
“This is the time to make money. But there is no work. I have made some readymade idols but the sales are low.”