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Durga Puja 2022

Mangrove plates from Sunderbans for Puja in the Netherlands

Bhog-er khichudi will be served on eco-friendly plates in Eindhoven, a major city in the North Brabant province

Debraj Mitra | Published 13.09.22, 07:11 AM
Women at the production unit in Jharkhali

Women at the production unit in Jharkhali

Telegraph picture

A Durga Puja in the Netherlands will have a taste of the Sunderbans this year.

At a community centre in Eindhoven, a major city in the North Brabant province in the Netherlands and the birthplace of the multinational company Philips, the bhog-er khichudi will be served to puja guests on paper plates made by women in the mangrove delta.

Ditto for machher kalia and mangsho.

The organisers of Eindhoven Sarodotsav, one of the popular Durga pujas in the Netherlands, had ordered around 3,500 plates, cups and bowls made of paper by the Sunderbans women.

The consignment has reached Eindhoven.

This newspaper earlier reported about the venture. Besides generating income, it has been reducing the adverse impact of plastic on the fragile ecosystem of the mangrove delta.

Local hotels, homestays and tourist vessels have been the main buyers of the paper utensils. This is the first time the products have travelled abroad. Shubhabrata Roy, one of the organisers, told The Telegraph over the phone from Eindhoven: “There is a lot of awareness here on the ills of plastic. Recyclable products are quite popular. We have been using paper plates since the start of the puja. We got to know about this unit in the Sunderbans through a friend and decided to buy products from them.” 

The puja started in 2017.

The Bengali community in and around Eindhoven comprise a “few hundred families”.

“The celebrations are not limited to Bengali families. Many Indians and a good number of Europeans also take part in them,” said Roy, a data scientist.

The puja is held in a community centre in the town. If the Puja falls on weekdays, the rituals are performed over the weekend immediately before or after.

This year, though, Shashti is on October 1, a Saturday. Over 100 people eat at the venue on the weekend, said Roy.

The link between the Durga Puja and the manufacturing venture in the Sunderbans is the IndoDutch Care Foundation, based in The Hague.

The group, led by three Bengalis, started in May 2020, in the wake of Cyclone Amphan.

“Since then, we have taken part in several projects in the Sunderbans, including plantation of mangrove saplings and desalination of ponds,” said Satarupa Bose Roy, secretary of the foundation.

The paper plate project in the Sunderbans took off in August last year.

From making around 600 plates every day in September 2021, it now makes over 14,000.

The plate-making venture, which started with around 40 women workers, now employs over 140.

It has two branches — at the Jharkhali market in the Basanti block and on Bali island in the Goasaba block.

“A machine provided by the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve has ramped up production significantly,” said Sourav Mukherjee, founder of the Kolkata Society for Cultural Heritage, which has been supporting the venture.

Debika Barman, who works in the Bali unit, takes home “Rs 6,000” every month. She used to catch fish seedlings before, making barely Rs 1,000 a month.

“The money is of great help. I have arranged for private tutors for my children and also bought a new mobile,” she said.

The project is being funded by the state forest department.

Besides training the women, the NGO also looks after marketing and promotion.

Among the regular buyers are tourist boats and homestays across the Sunderbans — in Basanti, Gosaba, Kultali and Mathurapur II blocks.

The buyers have shifted from thermocol plates to cheaper biodegradable paper ones.

Plastic waste is one of the biggest threats to the Sunderbans ecosystem.

The presence of plastic increases the toxicity of the saline water, which is feared to have a long-term impact on fishing and aquaculture, the livelihood of tens of thousands of local people. 

Durga Puja 2021 in Eindhoven

Durga Puja 2021 in Eindhoven

Last updated on 13.09.22, 09:40 AM
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