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Krishananagar: Will This Election Give Hope to Neglected Farmers & Clay Artists in This West Bengal Town?

“We aren't respected, they only want our votes and then forget us”

Subir Pal, 50, fondly remembers meeting Indira Gandhi in 1982. He had participated in the India Festival in London to showcase his clay work as a 12-year-old sculptor. Later, he won the National Award (President’s Award) in 1991. Connoisseurs from across the country reach Subir’s store at Putulpatti in Ghurni area to catch a glimpse of his exquisite work.

Subir is keen to teach the craft to young apprentices. He refuses to leave his town where he has learnt this art from his father. “The government should consider opening an art and crafts school in Krishnanagar. When there are many talented artists in this town, why should the new generation go to Kolkata to learn Sculpture?” he asks. Artists such as Subir lament that both the Centre and state governments have failed to develop the small town, located around 100 kilometres from Kolkata, into a centre for traditional artwork — clay, terracotta and bronze sculptures.

National Award winner Subir Pal at his store in Ghurni, Krishnanagar.

To promote artist in the region, the Trinamool government in West Bengal has taken a few measures like introducing the Artisan Credit Card to avail loan up to Rs 2 lakh, which has brought some respite. However, many half-baked steps have not really been helpful.

The Narendra Modi government has not extended any substantial help to the artists in the last five years though Skill India, Make in India were advertised extensively across the country. Banerjee had initiated the construction of a museum to showcase the work of the artists of Krishnanagar. This museum has done little to lift the spirit of the sculptors because it is located in the outskirts of the town, which they believe will witness very few footfall.

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Moreover, several artists allege that a huge amount was spent on the construction of the building by corrupt contractors. “It is for showcasing the art, right? But, there isn’t any artwork in that museum. It is just a building lying there. Initially, they (Trinamool government) discussed with us and we wanted it near Ghurni. There is government land here. But, they went ahead without listening to us,” Subir says. Neither Subir nor another National Award winner Tarit Pal were involved in the planning process, some lesser known artists were taken on board for the project which defeated the purpose of showcasing the best artwork of the town.

National Award winner Tarit Pal’s store in Ghurni, Krishnanagar.

Putulpatti roughly houses around 35 shops. Out of these, around five shops have high-quality clay models and figures, brass, bell metal and terracotta artwork. The remaining stores either create and sell the duplicate artwork of the famous artists of the town or make money by vending clay figures made with low-quality materials. Two shopkeepers at bronze and clay artist Goutam Pal’s store worry that the market is flooded with clay models which neither have quality nor any proper finishing. They add that several customers have returned them figurines sold in the name of Goutam Pal by other local artists in the town. Many sculptors even blame the increasing tendency among artists to commercialise the art as a root cause for the problem.

As one walks around the streets in Ghurni, it becomes amply clear why it is important to preserve the legacy of this art. The current lot has learnt the craft from their predecessors, whereas their children don’t show the same interest in carrying forward the tradition as it requires patience, time and moreover the money involved isn’t very lucrative. However, many new artists who look at clay work as a good career option suffer due to a lack of training. In the absence of a formal training institute at the local level, the next generation is left to start the business without much knowledge and the final product ends up showing the lack of it.

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Local political leaders underline that the problems of the artists isn’t a “poll issue”. Perhaps this is the reason why the candidates didn’t pay a visit to the artists in Ghurni. Although clay work is an integral and important part of the town, the subject finds no mention in the speeches of the candidates of all the prominent parties. “What have the other parties done? BJP is at Centre, Congress was there before; CPI (M) ruled in the state, at least we have done something. The museum will open, things take time,” Trinamool MLA Gouri Sankar Dutta says.

 “Where Should We Sell Our Produce?” 

As per 2011 census, 87.34% population in the constituency belong to the rural segment. This means that farmers are important for votes, unlike the artists. Since Modi government assumed power, the farmers underline that their income has dipped and they are desperately looking at other opportunities for employment. Their problems aren’t different from others in the country. What makes them stand apart is the fact that a majority of the farmers in the district are educated but lack of job options has forced them to either stick to farming or get engaged in the informal sector as masons or labourers.

“Where should we sell our produce? The money that we get for selling 10 kilograms of rice isn’t enough for managing the expenses of a family for a week too. This is our condition,” Sondanga village resident Momin Sheikh, says.

A group of farmers in Sondanga village, Krishnanagar.

Sheikh has studied till the 12th standard. He works as a mason occasionally as the farm income isn’t sufficient enough to look after his family. Like many other residents of the village, he also points out that the government trained him for constructing toilets under Swachh Bharat Mission, however, no work was assigned to him. “The farming community is the most neglected in the country. We aren’t respected, they only want our votes and then forget us,” he adds.

In the Chapra block, farmers say that both the Modi and Mamata Banerjee government treat farmers as “jokers”. When they take their produce to the Kisan Mandis, an unofficial cap is imposed on the total quantity of rice that can be sold by each person. Tintu Mallik explains that sometimes each farmer is allowed to sell even 40 sacks (each sack holds 60 kgs rice approximately), while on other occasions they are asked to take back 10 sacks. The transportation cost is an added burden for the farmers who sometimes prefer to sell the produce at the local markets at a lower cost to avoid the hassles. The government pays them Rs 1,750 for one quintal rice, however, out of each quintal five-four kilograms are rejected on some pretext or the other, they inform.

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In last year’s Panchayat polls largely marred by poll violence, the Trinamool won 301 Gram Panchayat seats and the BJP came a distant second with 45 seats in Nadia district. The CPI(M) was limited to 10 seats. The saffron party, which was gaining ground in the urban centres, has managed to make inroads in the village riding on the popular wave of “nationalism” and ‘Hindutva” sentiments. Trinamool has replaced two-time MP Tapas Paul who was jailed for involvement in the Rose Valley Scam with MLA Mahua Moitra. The BJP has fielded former footballer Kalyan Chaubey. The CPI(M) candidate, Shantanu Jha, a professor of agri-sciences, suggests that he has an edge over the other two candidates because he has worked extensively with farmers.

Trinamool supporters pained a wall in Krishnanagar.

Moitra is an MLA from Karimpur which is adjacent to the Krishnanagar parliamentary constituency. Many voters point out that she has developed the area in a short span of three years. Further, her good oratory skills are working in her favour. Several locals suggest that the CPI(M) and BJP candidates are also very good but the former is not “young like Mahua” and the latter is an “outsider”. The voters are, however, happy about the fact that they have options to elect between an agriculture scientist Jha and foreign-educated Moitra. Local Trinamool leaders underline that their candidate will manage to emerge victorious because of Mamata Banerjee’s development work, while CPI(M) leaders point out that her experience in the financial sector won’t be helpful in a largely-rural constituency.

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