An untruthful debate
Giridhari Behera, 73, is quite unhappy and upset over the controversy and confusion around Rasagola and the GI tag to Banglar Rosogolla. “Bengal may claim for its own type of the delicacy, but Rasagola is ours and will always remain so,” claims Giridhari, a confectioner of close to half a century experience and one of the old timers at Pahala-famous for Rasogola- on the Bhubaneswar-Cuttack stretch of the national highway (NH) 16. “The Odisha government has to take steps quickly and settle the matter,” adds Giridhar.
While West Bengal has worngly claimed it received the Geographical Indication (GI) tag for ‘Banglar Rosogolla’ this month, Odisha government is still mulling over applying for GI registration for the Rasagola associated with the Jagannath temple. The Odisha government had sought opinions of two top law firms having rich experience in handling patent cases. Odisha government has realised that ‘Pahala Rasagola’ does not have enough historical evidence to support it as is available in case of the ‘Jagannath Rasagola’. Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) or even the Servitors’ Association can file for the GI tag on behalf of the state.
The state industries department has recommended that based on the research papers submitted by Jagannath cult historian Asit Mohanty, the government may consider all coastal districts – Cuttack, Khordha, Puri, Kendrapara and Nayagarh – as a region to represent the claim of local manufacturer for GI tag registration.
The GI tag was primarily developed with the purpose of recognising the unique identity connecting different products and places. For a product to get GI tag, it has to have a unique quality, reputation or characteristic which is attributable to its geographic origin.
Ironically, Odisha had formed technical committee in September 2015 to collect evidences on the origin of Rasagola in the state after both Odisha and West Bengal braced up for acquiring GI status for the ball shaped syrupy dessert. It even went a step further to declare July 30 as ‘Rasagola Dibasa (Day)’, to celebrate its origin. The government had initiated process for the GI tag for Pahala Rasagola.
Mamta’s Fake Claim
A debate has been going on for around three years now over origins of Rosogolla and both West Bengal and Odisha claim that the syrupy dessert originated in their respective states. Both the states have formed committees to bolster their own claims and historical documents in support of respective claims have been put forward from time to time.
This debate took an interesting turn when West Bengal Chief Minister shared a ‘sweet news’ on Twitter, claiming that Bengal had been granted the GI (geographical indication) tag for Rosogolla. A geographical indication is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin providing quality assurance and uniqueness. Various natural, manufactured and agricultural products are awarded these tags by the government, which as a result of the tag may also command a premium price in domestic as well as international markets.
But OpIndia.com has brought out a news that may prove ‘sweet’ to the Odiya people and that is the news about Odisha losing out Rosogolla to Bengal is fake. Media did not care to find the details and reported only a half-truth.
Mr. Chinnaraja G Naidu, Assistant Registrar of Trade Marks & GI, speaking exclusively to OpIndia, confirmed that the claims of Odisha losing to Bengal in any legal tussle were misleading and wrong. In fact, the Geographical Indications Registry had not issued any GI tag for “Rosogolla” at all. The tag that was issued was for “Banglar Rosogolla” (or Bangla Rosogolla).
Naidu rued the way the news was being reported, which could create ill will between communities. He also commended OpIndia for trying to find out the details and not falling for the mistake that rest of the mainstream media has done.
So in all probabilities, the mainstream media was misled by the tweet by Mamata Banerjee that did not clarify that the GI tag was given for a special variety of Rosogolla that West Bengal produces, not for the overarching term “Rosogolla” itself. Odisha too was free to apply and get a similar GI tag for their own variety, which incidentally Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has revealed that the state will now do.
Not many are happy with the sluggish approach of the government, though. “We need to learn from West Bengal how to move faster,” said a confectioner in Pahala. “Other than installing a few street lamps, the government hasn’t done anything for us. However, Rasagola has always stood by us and given us an identity. Recalling the post demonetization period he said, “We got to know from the media that demonetization had severely hit business, everywhere. Initially for a week or so we felt the pinch but soon it was business, as usual,” According to Akshay Lenka, President, Pahala Rasagola Entrepreneurs and Manufacturers Society, PREMS, approximately 1000 families depend on Rasogola.
“It’s an example of the government’s apathy and insensitivity towards Odia culture and pride. For over eight hundred years, Rasogola has been associated with the Jagannath temple, naturally, it’s very dear to the entire state,” said, Odisha state BJP President Basanta Panda. “This government suffers from policy paralysis. It doesn’t take timely action, it also doesn’t react to take necessary measures and address any issue,” he alleged.
“Definitely we have been very slow in our approach,” conceded a senior minister in Naveen Patnaik’s cabinet. “The tag is for Banglar Rosogolla, not Rasagola in general. However, we are now seriously working on for the same and we will have it for our Rasagola,” the minister added.
According to Asit Mohanty, Bengal Rosogulla is just a variant of the Rasagola that originated in Odisha. The report of a committee headed by Mohanty, points to the sweet’s reference in Dandi Ramayana, a version of the epic adapted by Balaram Das in the 16th century. Tracing the origin of the sweet, it also claims that the sweet was being offered to gods in mutts and temples for over 600 years. It refutes Bengal’s claim that Rasagula had reached Odisha under the influence of Shri Chaitanya. The neighbouring state had also claimed that chhena (cottage cheese), from which rasagulla is made, was invented in Bengal. “We have a lot of literary evidence to prove that Rasagola originated from Odisha,” said, Mohanty.
According to local legends, when Lord Jagannath goes on the 9-day yatra without the consent of his wife Laxmi, she gets very upset and locks one of the doors to the temple called the ‘Vijay Dwar’. Upon the Lord’s arrival, he tries to appease her by offering her rasagulas. This ritual which is known as ‘Bachanika’ is a part of the “Niladri Bije” or “Arrival of God” observance which marks the return of the deities to the temple.
By Debi Mohanty