Rasagola Row: The Story Of The Hare & The Tortoise

From utter despondency to a flicker of hope, it was an extraordinary turnaround of moods for millions of Odias in the course of a few hours on Tuesday. The morning began with collective breast-beating after news of Bengal getting the coveted Geographical Indication (GI) tag for rosogulla spread like wildfire. By evening, however, it had become clear that all had not been lost, after all. What Bengal had wangled the GI tag for was its own version of ‘Bangla Rosogulla’ while Odisha’s case had not even been presented at all, we were told. Backed as it is with authentic and verifiable historical evidence, Odisha’s case for GI status to its own version of the syrupy sweet rests on solid grounds, we were assured by Finance Minister Sashi Bhusan Behera. And the experts seemed to agree.

But the point is not if Odisha still has a chance of getting its due, but what has the state government been doing for over two years to get its rightful claim acknowledged by the intellectual property authorities at Chennai who hand out the GI status? After all, rasagola snowballed into a major controversy only after the state government made the first move to get GI status for the famous Pahala rasagola in July 2015. All that the state government has to show by way of efforts to take it to its logical conclusion in the two years and more since then is the formation of three committees. Eminent literary critic and researcher Asit Mohanty, an acclaimed authority on the subject, submitted his 100-page report backed with irrefutable proof, of the existence of rasagola and its ritual offering to Lord Jagannath on Niladri Bije at least since the 15th century, if not earlier, in July last year. A little enquiry by this columnist revealed that the report initially commissioned by the Science & Technology department, which cites Balaram Das’ Dandi Ramayana and other literary works of the time to make its case, was later sent to the Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSME) department which, in turn, assigned the job of preparing the presentation to the GI authorities to the Central Tool room & Training Centre (CTTC).  And there the matter has rested for the last 16 months without anyone in the government being able to say how long it will take to make its case. As Odisha kept twiddling its thumb, West Bengal moved purposefully to seal the GI norm for its rosogulla. It was the old story of the hare and the tortoise all over again!

A group of spirited Odias meanwhile launched an online campaign to celebrate ‘Rasagola Day’ on Niadri  Bije, the day when the deities return to their abode after their annual nine-day sojourn to their aunt’s place during the Rath Yatra in Puri. With Odia youth joining the bandwagon with gusto, the campaign did get considerable traction on social media. The event trended on Twitter for two consecutive years. Unfortunately though, GI status is given on the basis of hard, verifiable proof and not on the strength of a social media campaign. Odisha’s case has thus stood exactly where it was in July, 2015 while Bengal has worked diligently to get what it wanted.

There is little doubt that the Naveen Patnaik government has a lot of explaining to do about going into deep slumber after an initial burst of activity. With all the historical evidence to back Odisha’s case already painstakingly put together by Asit Mohanty, all it had to do was to move the GI office in Chennai with the relevant documents. If it was anything other than plain callousness that has delayed the submission of the state’s case, the state government is not forthcoming with any explanations.

Social media saw an outpouring of hurt pride all day with most Odias understandably venting out their anger on the government for its gross apathy that led to this ‘defeat’. A few cloaked their disappointment in satire with one Facebooker saying now that we have lost the ‘battle’ for rasogola, we should move fast to get the GI tag at least for our very own ‘gulgula’. For reasons that have their genesis in history, what hurt most Odias was the fact that the ‘defeat’ came at the hands of Bengalis.

But then wasn’t it the Bengalis who had once said that Odia was not a language at all? In a supreme irony, the same ‘non-language’ has now got the classical language status, one of only six Indian languages to get this coveted tag, while Bangla is nowhere in the picture. So, let us throw our despondency out of the window and put pressure on our government to move fast – and with precision – to get not just a GI tag for our very own rasagola, but to get recognition for everything else that rightfully belongs to us. After all, we have history on our side and no one – just no one – can change that.

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