Every year as the five days of celebration, food and pandal hopping come to an end with Sindoor Khela on Vijaya Dashami, when will it be the right time for us so to decode whether it is truly a Shubho Vijaya? 

Sindoor (vermillion) Khela or the playing with Sindoor takes place before Visarjan of the idols of Goddess Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartik, and Ganesha exclusively by married women. Sindoor or vermillion is regarded as a symbol of a blessed marriage, considered patriarchal by many, Bollywood has reinforced and emphasised the sanctity of the same. From suhagan to sindoor, women have been forced to ascertain their status as a product of ownership of their husbands. A common bond of marriage is shared amongst women, only cis-women in heterosexual married relationships. Yet, each year, Bengali women drape sarees and celebrate a norm excluding a huge part of the society! 

The idol of Goddess Durga is smeared with vermillion with the significance of her marriage with Lord Shiva, however, such a ritual emphasises on the institution of marriage more than the individualism of the woman. Such a ritual celebrates her existence in association with her husband, thus, excluding unmarried, widowed, divorced, homosexual, transgenders, single mothers, separated and non-cis gendered women. It gives supreme status to her suhagaan diminishing THE Devi’s powers! The above-mentioned groups remain at the fringes of social acceptance and remain ostracised due to their relationship bereft a man. 

Barring the women who choose not to be associated with a man, an entire community is left behind- who are never invited to the sindoor khela. Heterosexual couples or lesbians, simply put, need no man. So, why is this united by gender and divided by traditions at play? Such traditions reek of indifference and sheer heteronormativity and unsympathy towards an entire living-breathing-existing community! The entire idea of unifying women under Sindoor Khela stands on the very ground of heterosexuality thus, ostracising an entire community simply for not identifying themselves with a masculine figure. 

The concept of married women only is largely a question on what defines a marriage. With changing definitions of companionship, do couples in other forms of courtship not consider their relationship as pious as of those made sacred by the holy fire? This tradition also questions the sanctity of an ideal relationship between a man and a woman only acceptable after marriage. Where do the divorcees, separated, widowed and single mothers stand? Moreover, the definition of a ‘woman’ per se, is problematic in itself. Gender is fluid. Ascertaining a set norm of cis women invalidates the experiences of non-binary and trans folks. 

In a country which labels widowhood as the end of the world and creates havoc over the release of a movie like Water by Deepa Mehta portraying the status of widowed woman in Varanasi, marriage stands as a hovering social norm of acceptance for us! From adorning white garments to living a life of isolation, the agency of women is considered diminished after her husband’s death. 

Prostitutes who fall in the conventional definition are all the more isolated in Durga Puja. The idea of sex work is still unacceptable and talked about in hushed tones. Sonagachi or Asia’s largest red-light district stands at the threshold of conventional morality. Ironically, an age-old Hindu tradition states, the making of Durga’s idol requires punya mati’ or dust from the doorsteps of the sex-workers. 

The barriers imposed on women have been continuing for centuries, without raising a single eyebrow. Times of India launched a campaign #NoConditionsApply in order to incorporate a broader audience of women and make it inclusive. The aim of breaking down the tradition of the division was solely to incorporate diversity, by making it a celebration for one and all. 

Click on the link below to witness a visual experience of the celebration:


A festival that celebrates the universality and omnipotence of women, excludes women deemed inferior by society. A festival that reminds us of the power of womanhood, excludes everyone but the privileged. A festival that worships a woman, excludes women. 

Feature Image Credits: The Indian Express

Anandi Sen

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With the aftermath of the Durga Pujo festivities lingering in the air, here is a list of five underrated Bengali movies that everyone should watch.

Bela Sheshe (2015)

Directed by Shiboprasad Das and Nandita Roy, Bela Sheshe (loosely translated: at the end of the day) tells a story of a marriage, broken yet not broken. Tthe film is about a husband wanting a divorce from his wife after 50 years of marriage. This raises questions about the social institution of marriage. The film boasts of a formidable cast with names such as Soumitra Chatterjee and Swatilekha Sengupta in the lead roles, masters of their craft. There is a particular scene in the movie, where Rabindranath Tagore’s Tumi Robe Nirobe’s plays subtly, while the characters remain silent, are brilliantly executed.

36 Chowringhee Lane (1981)

Aparna Sen’s directorial debut is a movie which touches the tender chords of the audiences’ hearts.  It is the story of a middle-aged school teacher who is trapped in her loneliness. Violet, after the marriage of her beloved niece (her only relative), lives as a recluse her whole life, having only one joy, that is teaching Shakespeare at school. When an ex student chooses to visit her at her residence, 36 Chowringhee Lane, she starts having company. It is a profound, realistic and deeply moving chronicle of a woman’s quiet desperation and struggle through the silence in her life. Jeniffer Kendal as Violet is magnificent. The film also went on to win National Film Award for best direction.

Unishe April (1994)

Rituparno Ghosh, the director, went on to win the National Film award for the Best Feature Film. This film boasts a strong cast of women (Aparna Sen and Debashree Roy), Unishe April is a film about a broken relationship between a celebrity mother and her confused daughter. The film dares to tackle what is perhaps the most challenging subject in art- interpersonal relationships. Mainstream Indian cinema stick to stereotypes- the ideal doting mother, the bright submissive daughter. Unishe April, dismantles those stereotypes with cinematic brilliance. Aditi’s (Debashree Roy) mother (Aparna Sen) isn’t the epitome of a perfect mother, neither is Aditi the poster child. Fraught with history, the film chronicles the aftermath of 19th April (Unishe April), the day Aditi’s father passes away. It is a story of a day, told through flashbacks and gripping exchanges that questions human behaviour at the best. Debashree went on to the win the National Award for Best Actress for Unishe April.

Charulata (1964)

Satyajit Ray’s Charulata, based on the famous short story written by Rabindranath Tagore, is meditative poetry as claimed by one of the journalists at FirstPost. It is the story of a lonely wife, whose husband Bhupathi, the modern-man whose ever consuming interest in running his newspaper, leads him to neglect his wife. To provide her gainful company, Bhupati invites his cousin Amal over. Amal’s infectious energy and literary bent of mind matches Charulata’s and there develops a deep bond between them. What ensues is a poignant love triangle which questioned societal norms and sanctions.

Charulata was based on Tagore’s Nastanirh (“The Broken Nest”) but Ray, who wrote the screenplay in addition to directing the film, refashioned details from Tagore’s story.

Some of Charulata’s most beautiful moments are the wordless sequences, shot with mesmerising grace by Ray and his cinematographer Subrata Mitra. The camera spoke using angles, shadows and perspective. The famous sequence showing Charulata on a swing was a feat. The use of binoculars early on in the film perfectly communicated the idea of Charulata as a caged beauty who wants to watch, touch, feel and experience the world but is forced to remain cloistered.


Feature Image Credits: Indian Express

Ankita Dhar Karmakar
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