TIRUNELVELI: More than 40 Rajasthani migrant idol makers and their families, who were staying in Tirunelveli for the past two decades, have decided to call it a day. They are leaving the city and going back to their native. The reason: their business has dwindled and debts are piling up. The pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to them.
Having spent years in idol-making warehouses in the city, they are trekking back to their native villages empty-handed, leaving the dust-gathered idols back here. They said there is hardly any sale and find it difficult to make both ends meet.
Every year, they spend nearly 10 months in the warehouse, and make and sell Ganapathy idols to the shops in the district ahead of Vinayaka Chathurthi. Since the festival is barely celebrated in grandeur in the backdrop of the still-spreading virus, they are now forced to bid adieu to the city.
This may not look like the exodus of migrants that the State witnessed during the first wave and the second wave. But the scenes are not less heart-breaking. It is always the migrants who get displaced first. Their dreams of making a living out of their skill and mastery lay shattered.
Dhanram (28), who has been running the idol-making business in Tirunelveli, was a major supplier of statues in the district, especially during Vinayaka Chathurthi. He said that half the idol makers had left to their native during the first wave of the pandemic as permissions were denied to celebrate the festival on a larger scale. Due to the scarce supply of statues, many shops in the district faced a financial crisis as they had purchased idols way before the pandemic started and had to shut their business.
“I took over my father’s business that was started two decades back in the city. My father, Modaram (50), who came here to sell idols, would have made hundreds of big and thousands of small statues in the hope to sell them during the festival season, borrowing around Rs 15 lakh as a loan. Our hopes were shattered as pandemic blew us into misery coupled with a pile-up of debt,” said Dhanram.
The warehouse rent, said Dharam, costs him Rs 2 lakh per year. He is now struggling to pay the rent, salary, food and accommodation of the workers. Distressed Dharam also said the debt has now piled up to Rs 20 lakh.
Jagadeesh, who makes idols in the district, said that they are assigned to make five big idols and 30 small statues a day. Explaining the cost range of the statues, he said that the smallest statue costs Rs 250 and the biggest statue costs Rs 40,000.
“Since the pandemic, we have not sold many idols and now, we are dusting the old statues, hoping to sell this year. However, those shops that usually place their orders a month early have not made any purchase yet. The festival is falling on September 10 and my hopes are still alive. Fear of loss is lingering in everyone’s minds. We hope to sell the statues this year and leave them to our natives as at least we can fill our tummies if we are home,” said Jagadeesh.
Shopkeepers expressed their fears and said that they faced a major loss last year so they are playing it cautiously this time around. Saying that they have not received any help from the government, the shopkeepers rued that they would only purchase from the idol makers if customers place an order for the same. Requesting anonymity, a Tahsildar said that during the pandemic, migrants selling idols stayed back in the hope to earn income but due to no alternative job, they suffered a lack of income.
As this is their only source of income, the government should take action regarding the celebrations so that they can earn their living. When TNIE contacted the Collector, V Vishnu, he said that the District Administration would take steps to provide marketing facilities for the people.
The warehouse rent costs Dhanram Rs 2 lakh per year. He is now struggling to pay the workers’ rent, salary, food and accommodation. He also said the debt has now piled up to Rs 20 lakh, along with interest