The effigies are getting ready for the big day, ready to be shipped to all corners of the Delhi-NCR region, and Ravana heads line up in a queue, but the festive excitement is missing this Dussehra.
Crammed, dimly lit and far away from the main road, the effigy market in west Delhi’s Subhash Nagar was relocated from the bustling Titarpur village near the Tagore Garden Metro station in 2018. But business and life have taken a battering with no amenities being provided, say the artisans.
Believed to be one of the largest of its kind in Asia, the Titarpur market would be its busiest a few days before Dussehra, with massive Ravana heads lined up on the road. Now, the effigy makers occupy what are essentially two unkempt grounds, with only tall grass in the name of a workplace.
There’s no water, no electricity and no sanitation facilities either, said the artisans, who leave their round-the-year low-paying jobs ahead of the festive season to make some extra cash by making and selling effigies.
Though busy giving final touches to the replicas of the tall and mighty ten-headed Ravana, and his brothers Kumbhkaran and Meghnad, the uncertainty of taking back home a decent income is evident from their faces.
The artisans are mainly daily wage labourers from Rajasthan, Haryana and Bihar.
“When we shifted, the authorities promised us basic amenities like sanitation, water, and electricity. Now here we are making effigies in a place worse than a jungle,” said Mahendra Ravanawalla, as he wrapped the bamboo frame with old sarees.
Instead of earning money, they actually end up spending ₹300-400 every day from their own pockets to arrange for drinking water.
“The few lights that can be seen here are also installed by us, for which we spent over ₹2,000,” said Ravanawalla, who has been making effigies for the last 45 years.
When asked about the lack of facilities needed for the proper functioning of the market, a South Delhi Municipal Corporation spokesperson refused to comment.
After the Delhi High Court’s intervention, the SDMC last year identified the two spaces in Subhash Nagar for the artisans to make the effigies at a charge of ₹1.50 per square feet per month.
This is the second year of the market’s new home. Orders come in not just from the Delhi-NCR region but also from Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and even abroad.
According to Dase Ravanwalla, the business has taken a hit also because many of their regular customers are not aware of the relocation.
Several orders also got canceled because Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) couldn’t get permissions for the burning of effigies.
“There is no signboard saying that there is Ravan Mandi ahead or something like this. The administration didn’t do even that much. A majority of our business is killed there and then only,” said 51-year-old Dase, who has over 12 workers helping him.
The height of an effigy ranges from five to 50 feet and the cost averages about ₹500 per foot, lower than the last few years, he said.
What hurts the most is the injustice, Dase and his colleagues said.
Many alleged that while most of them were asked to relocate, some effigy makers continued operating out of the Titarpur village with “full protection from the authorities”.
“Woh sab dabbang log hai (They all our powerful people) They had told us earlier also that no matter what, we won’t be touched. And look how true they were.
“The High Court and SDMC orders are for poor people, not for powerful people like them,” said Dase.
Some effigy makers are still operating in Titarpur, with a total of around 10 of them at both the locations.
Several made-to-order bamboo frames along with numerous figureheads of Ravana are displayed across the pavement beneath the Tagore Garden metro station.
“Other effigy sellers were asked to leave because they were duping people. They would make 15 effigies and book orders for 20. That’s the reason they were asked to move from here by the police,” said a person taking orders for Ravanawalla Baba, one of the five shopkeepers still doing business in the old location.
The SDMC spokesperson said they were unaware of artisans still selling effigies in Titarpur village, and added the corporation would take necessary actions soon.