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PoP Ganesh idols -- sentiment v reason

February 16, 2011 14:50 IST

Instead of the instinctive outcry that sentiments are hurt, the political leadership ought to avoid emotions and opt for reason for what has been suggested is good for us. They ought to cease stoking the fire and accept the reality, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.

I am neither an atheist nor an agnostic. But I am certainly against ritualistic and even public expression of religious fervour. To me religion is a person belief, a thing between me and my Maker. I do not need the intermediation of a priest who is, it happens most of the time, unable to explain the meaning of the rituals and the chants. What price such rituals?

Having entered that caveat, I would like to dwell on the considered pronouncement from the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court which has expressed its preference that the Ganesh idols should be made of clay -- shadu in Marathi -- and not plaster of Paris. Use of natural colours is another recommendation. The clay can be sourced from lakebeds.

Immersion of idols made of plaster of Paris do cause irreparable damage to the water sources for they do not dissolve, like the thermocole used in decorations which also remain as they are, being made of Styrofoam. The implications of their use so widely, even if once-a-year basis is best avoided if we are think of the future where water is going to run short as the populations grow.

I would applaud Narendra Dhabolkar, the rationalist for this campaign and I note that he has said that the courts have not asked for ban on idols of PoP but throwing of stuff such as consolidated PoP and chemical dies in the water bodies. The implications to the use of idol derive from it. There already are guidelines issued by the pollution control boards.

It is hard to understand how this court's view is a hurt to the sentiments, religious sentiments at that. The court did not make an iconoclastic demand that idols be not installed. They only said it was time to go green given the concerns involved. In fact, they said, go back to the old tradition of fashioning idols from clay, like the way our forefathers did. Surely, the first sarvajanaik Ganapati installed by Lokmanya Tilak in Pune's Vinchurkar Wada in 1892 was not made of plaster of Paris?

Nor, for that matter, was that idol which set the pace for public congregations using it as a ruse for political gatherings to defy the British bans so large that it needed cranes and trucks to be moved to the pandal and take away from the pandal after the celebrations. Then why defy a tradition which has only led to vulgarisation? You don't need the ruse anymore in a free country and the size of the object of worship is not directly proportional to your religious values and beliefs and strength of your prayer?

According to the petitioners in the case which brought out the court's opinion, every year, some two lakh quintals of plaster of Paris of which the idols are made find their way into water sources -- lakes, streams, rivers and the seas. The disheartening sights of plaster of Paris idols being washed back to the various chaupatis by the next tide after immersion are all too common for us to ignore. They do not dissolve and they remain virtually for ever. They cause harm to the environment.

Instead of the instinctive outcry that sentiments are hurt, the political leadership ought to avoid emotions and opt for reason for what has been suggested is good for us. They ought to cease stoking the fire and accept the reality. Did they not accept the ban on advertisements of gutka at the events? Did they not accept the ban on use of loudspeakers after 10 pm? Has it hurt the sentiments? It has only brought more order to a society that is increasingly becoming reckless. The collective mind seems unwilling to think.

One reason for this ire could be that the petitioners are old hands at campaigning against blind faith and that hurts not the sentiments but vested interests of those who fan fear and passions using religion as a pretext. There are economic reasons as well perhaps, for a 40 cm tall idol made of clay would cost Rs 600, according to one estimate, and the PoP one about a third of that -- Rs 220. Transportation is a bit more difficult, needing lot more care because the idols can be fragile.

However, much before this view from the courts last week, I had decided on how I shall resist not just the use of PoP but also the vulgarisation of the festivities. Last Ganpati, when homes and streets come alive with celebrations, I refused to contribute to the kitty for the public event and with some reasons. They are: the colony had an open ground accessible to everyone but a huge pandal was erected blocking the entire road including a bus stop. The organisers had a programme drawn out that had the colony women doing a catwalk and children dance to Bollywood songs. The worship aspect hardly featured in the pamphlet.

Now I have a good reason not to contribute next time around if the idol is made of plaster of Paris. Besides, I intend to object to the use of thermocole and allowing people to bring flowers and garlands in polythene bags. However, only a few bring flowers, most come for the fun. The installed Ganesh is less the reason, the events organised around it appears to be the draw for the crowds. The court did not make a reference to use of thermocole.

As mindlessly as the way we continue to patronise the use of plastic bags even below 20 microns which are now banned from use. The shopkeeper says that he has to oblige the customer and the civic bodies do not regularly monitor the use -- or misuse? -- of these bags. The good old cotton shopping bags you once carried are not to be found in many a home these days.

Those who talk of hurt to sentiments are not sensitive to the environment which is deteriorating when the world is talking of going green. They are not sensitive to the future either. Such people, I urge, should use their platforms and their credibility with the people to increase awareness about environmental issues -- PoP dumping is one such concern, indeed -- and contribute to the society.

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based commentator on public affairs.

Mahesh Vijapurkar