With the country seemingly at a tipping point as agitations and demonstrations have become the order of the day, it appears even the gods aren’t safe. The Pune Municipal Corporation’s education board has felt compelled to build a cage around an idol of Saraswati at the entrance of its office after a Dalit organisation threatened to remove it. Thirty thousand rupees of taxpayers’ money has been expended in the process.
On January 7, the political outfit Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh had carried out a daylong agitation outside the PMC’s office at Shivajinagar, demanding that the Saraswati statue be replaced with one of social reformer Savitribai Phule, who had started the first school for women in the city in the 19th century. Following the demonstration, education board chairperson Pradeep Dhumal had reportedly mollified the agitators saying that the matter comes would be forwarded to the mayor. But within a week’s time, officials decided to construct a cage around the idol as a safeguard.
“We did not forward the proposal regarding the cage to PMC. The board took the decision on its own,” said education board administrator Shivaji Daundkar.
When asked why the board felt the need to build the enclosure and how much money has been spent on it, he replied, “Obviously this was done to protect the idol. The cost incurred was around thirty thousand rupees. This way we have made sure that no one will harm the statue.”
The idol was instituted in 2009 by the then education board chairperson Sangita Tiwari from Congress. “No one had raised any objections to the idol in the last four years, as Saraswati is considered to be the goddess of knowledge. It appears from the recent agitation that the protesters just seek the limelight,” said a PMC official on condition of anonymity.
“I don’t think it was necessary to waste taxpayers’ money on building a cage. This will only encourage other political outfits to raise objections on trivial issues,” he added.
On the other hand, Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh appeared totally unaware of the development. When contacted, Advocate Kiran Kadam, city chairperson of the outfit, said, “I did not know about this. Rather education board chairperson Pradeep Dhumal had assured us that he would pass on our demand to PMC. We will soon take up the matter again, and if needed, will agitate one more time.”