Festivals often have a darker side to them. The season of autumn brings with it the most festive period in the Indian calendar. However behind all the joy and happiness there lie several opportunity mongers looking for unsolicited contact to gratify perverse needs. It is extremely ironic that if you were to ask any woman who frequented a place of religious worship in their lifetimes, have their stories of being touched or groped non-consensually. In pooja pandals, with heavy crowds, the scope for molesting or harassing women or even men, without their consent gets increased manifold.
It is simply nothing but sad that in the same pandal where the goddess Durga is worshipped, there are people attempting to grope or molest young kids or women taking advantage of the crowded nature of the areas. Catcalling, groping, inappropriate touching are common behaviour in display by most. Pandals, due to the immense modern day commercialization of Durga Puja, have become all about advertisement and branding with volatile club members and Puja Committees caring only about attracting larger and larger crowds. Arrangements for security and safety of people visiting is rarely looked into. There have been recorded cases of Puja committee members misbehaving and manhandling women.
Children become an especially vulnerable entity inside these Puja pandals as it becomes difficult for parents to take care of them and notice all any kind of inappropriate behavior. This is even more easily facilitated in private mansions that hold their own festivities. Children are easy prey for relatives and several cases of child abuse have been recorded in such circumstances, since parents can’t keep an eye on children in the midst of all the festive hullaballoo. It is extremely unfortunate that in a land that worships the female goddess and her power of good to battle evil, Durga Puja Pandals are infiltrated by harassers and molesters looking for the most opportune moment to unleash their predatory agenda.
Even more unfortunate is how they know their actions shall go unaccounted for since most women would prefer not to create a ruckus in the middle of a heavy crowd. Puja Pandals therefore become the places rife with the nastiest of people and incidents. What we need more is the presence of higher number of female police who are sensitized to the issues of such violation women face inside pandals. Pandals should also aim at proper crowd control and management. Festivals are times of joy and light; at least during such a time of the year women should have the right to feel safe in front of the Devi on the pedestal. As a society, we ought to progress in that direction.