Bhopal: Bharat Prajapati, a 48-year-old potter from Bhopal, took on a loan of four lakh rupees after mortgaging his home and his wife’s jewellery with an eye on Ganesh Chaturthi.
A diabetic who is partially visually impaired, Prajapati almost ran out of savings during the four-month lockdown period. Despite the odds, he worked hard having secured the loan, and made 120 Ganesh idols ranging from two to five feet tall over the last two months. The family, including his wife Bharti and their four children, toiled hard to recover losses incurred due to the lockdown.
“If my idols would have been sold, I would have gotten my eyes operated,” he had hoped. However, his hopes were washed away when the Bhopal district administration issued an order a week before the festival. On August 17, the administration capped the idol sizes to three feet and restricted their presence in pandals at public places to avoid gatherings in light of COVID-19.
The late decision resulted in Prajapati only managing to sell ten idols for between Rs 300 and 500 each. He had 120 Ganesh idols. He had sold a three-foot long idol for Rs 2,100 previously. However, deals for nearly 50 idols were cancelled by customers.
“Given the assurance of Home Minister Narottam Mishra (three months ago), we had begun making idols since making clay idols is a time consuming process,” said Prajapati. “However, when we approached him after the Bhopal district administration said otherwise, he shouted at us to go away. If he would have said this earlier, we might not have taken a loan by mortgaging a home and my wife’s jewellery,” alleged Prajapati.
The loss has devastated the family. At a time when the six-member family is struggling for food, money lenders are hounding him to repay their debt. Prajapati’s wife has even attempted suicide twice over the past five days.
“I’m very ill. I can barely see. My wife tried to end her life but I cannot bring myself to do it. If I commit suicide, my four children will be orphaned,” he said, tears rolling down his cheeks.
“In this time of dire need, no one from the community, not even so-called pro-Hindu organisations like the Bajrang Dal, Hindu Sena or others have come forward,” he said.
“The ruling party (BJP) and its associates may burn the city down if someone breaks an idol’s finger by mistake but when the idol makers are dying they are turning their backs on us,” Prajapati added.
At this time of the year, Prajapati’s workshop is usually brimming with activity. He made between Rs two and three lakhs during Ganesh Chaturthi and Durga Puja in 2019. He is now pinning his hope on Durga puja in October and selling diyas during Diwali.
There are nearly 600 traditional potters’ families in Bhopal. Their livelihoods are at stake due to the last minute decision by the administration.
Ajay Prajapati, another potter, who lives in the Budhwara locality of Bhopal is in an almost similar state. He availed a loan of Rs two lakh for the season at ten percent interest per month, but only managed to sell 30 idols out of 150. He purchased raw material at double the rate due to a restriction on public transport.
Devendra said that thousands were part of the BJP’s three-day membership drive in Gwalior last week, despite restrictions on movement due to COVID-19. “No one questions them though,” he said.
Protest with Unsold Idols, says Potters’ Organisation
The potters’ community has now resolved to launch a protest against the ruling government. “We are planning to meet Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan over the next two to three days to raise our concerns,” said Mohan Prajapati, President of Murtikar Martikalal Sangh.
“If he fails to address our issues, we will hold a protest at the Chief Minister’s house with the unsold idols and demand compensation," said Ajay Prajapati, a member of the Sangh.