Amity pervades the Jagaddhatri Puja pandal in Collegepara, a prominent locality in Siliguri, as a group of Muslim youths have joined hands with their Hindu friends to organise the puja.
For the past three years, around 20 Muslim youths are actively involved in the puja that draws thousands of pandal-hoppers.
“The puja committee has two secretaries, one a Hindu and the other a Muslim. Members of both communities take part in the festival,” said a local resident.
This year, the budget is around Rs 6 lakh. Committee members from both communities have made their contributions.
Rustam Alam, the assistant secretary of the committee, said that three years back, he and two of his friends took the initiative to start the puja.
“My family is also involved in the puja. They come here on puja days and support us a lot. We Muslims and Hindus have all grown up together, how can we be different during festivals? Be it Jagaddhatri Puja or Id, we celebrate every occasion together,” said Alam.
“There are a few who want to create a wedge on religious lines. But as sensible people, we don’t believe in such divisions. That is the culture of Bengal. Religious differences are the last thing which I or my Hindu friends want to bother about,” he added.
Sourav Bhaskar, also the secretary of the committee, said that festivals went beyond religious boundaries.
“Every festival, whether it is Id or any other, is celebrated with huge passion and dedication. The essence of harmony and inclusiveness you find here in our puja committee is something, we believe, is rare in Siliguri,” Bhaskar said.
He said that of the 60-odd members of the puja committee, 20 are Muslims.
“There is no force in the world that can spoil this relationship.... We are united and our bond will strengthen in the days to come,” added Bhaskar.
The organisers claimed that this year, their 21-foot-tall idol was the highest Jagaddhatri idol in north Bengal.
“The height of our idol is 21 feet. For the puja, we do not collect money from people. Our committee members contribute to this puja,” he said.
During the puja days, they congregate together throughout the day and celebrate the occasion till late evening.
“Right from bringing the idol to immersion, our Muslim friends participate in all activities with us,” said Bhaskar.