India is a country of paradoxes. Here, goddesses are worshiped and yet, many women are discriminated against. However, this year's Durga Puja has many stories of hope to tell.
In West Bengal, a club in a small town called Uttarpara, invited 86-year-old Shila Ghosh as their chief guest. The octogenarian sells savouries in a Central Kolkata street side and earns a living for her family.
The old lady changes two buses to reach the Exide crossing on Chowringhee Road in Kolkata from the suburb Bally, in Howrah. She spends long hours on the pavement every afternoon to sell chips outside a massive Haldirams outlet. She is at work till the flow of the homebound-crowd ebbs.
More than three years ago, her son died of a heart ailment. He was the only bread earner in the family. Since then she has been selling papad to take her of her family and to supplement her grandson’s meagre earnings from odd jobs.
Two years ago, after a Facebook post on the lady went viral, many samaritans converged on the busy junction to surprise Shila with “a small donation”.
Shila, however, had a bigger surprise for them.
“She accepted the Rs 1,600 we had mobilised for her but declined further monetary help. She told us she wanted to earn a living rather than live off donations,” Sufia, the 22-year-old who had shared the Facebook post on Shila had told The Telegraph.
If the group was still willing to help her, Shila said she would rather they set up a kiosk for her. “Aami paari….Bus dhore chole aashi eikhane. Bus-ta barir samne nabiye dyay. Bikri kore chole jaye (I am capable of earning my bread. I come here and return by bus, it drops me in front of my house),” she had told Metro.
On Monday, she was made to inaugurate a Puja pandal, a ceremony that is usually occupied by celebrities and ministers.
According to the member of the club, Shila was also provided with some financial assistance.
In fact, women are being celebrated across the country to celebrate this year's Durga Puja.
In Delhi, Arambagh Puja in Panchkuian Road is all set to celebrate this year's puja with real life Durgas who symbolise courage, hope and inspiration.
The Arambagh Puja Samiti has invited widows from Vrindavan, acid attack survivors, sex workers from Sonagachi, Asia's largest red-light district in Kolkata and untouchables from Alwar to inaugurate the puja.
"While we worship Durga, in reality most women are subjected to exploitation, violence and humiliation in the family and in the society," Abhijit Bose, executive chairman of Arambagh Puja Samiti told The Statesman.
In fact, the idol in this pandal will be that of a 40 foot tall Adivasi woman with bow, arrow and sword in her hand.
The Adivasi woman will represent Durga who has the power to annihilate all violence against women, a member of the puja committee said.
Meanwhile, one of the oldest community durga pujas in Gurgaon, Maruti Vihar Sarbojanin Durgotsav (MVSD), has decided upon the theme "India Let Her Live- Save the Girl Child," drawing inspiration from the Prime Minister's "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao" programme.
"The theme was chosen to highlight the plight of the girl child, particularly in Haryana where female foeticide is still rampant. The lowest among all Indian states, Haryana's sex ratio shows that the mindset of the society has not changed despite the country's progress in different domains," Anit Kumar Ghosh, President, MVSD, told PTI.
Bangiya Parishad of Sector 56, Gurgaon, which is celebrating their tenth year, have themed their puja on "Stree Shakti".
"The theme for the year is based on ten forms of Stree Shakti (woman power). Apart from goddess Durga, we will have individual temples of nine other swarupas of Maa Durga along with our other most celebrated mother - Bharat Mata," say organisers.