A bloodied sanitary napkin has often been used as a symbol to shatter the taboo that a lot of women still have to tiptoe around. But no matter how much we love our goddesses, talking about their menstrual cycle is apparently still blasphemy. Unless, of course, it’s on designated days like Ambubachi Mela (hugely popular in the East and Northeast).
A certain section of Bengalis on the Internet seem to be comfortable only with celebrating the procreating side of Goddess Durga when it’s convenient to them. So when Mumbai-based concept artist Aniket Mitra put up a Facebook post with his artwork that showed a bloody lotus on a sanitary napkin, an army of trolls took it upon themselves to school Mitra with abuses.
“I’ve been abused and people have even made personal comments on my family. My artwork is just a reflection of what I had seen and experienced in everyday life. My wife loves the Ashtami anjali (a ritual on the eighth day of Durga Puja), but whenever she gets her period on Ashtami, she cannot participate in something she loves. There’s no such restriction for men so my artwork was an attempt at understanding how infuriating it can be for all women,” Mitra tells InUth.
Women in India are considered to be ‘impure’ while they’re menstruating. They are not allowed to step into temples, participate in religious ceremonies, or even come close to any object that could be used for religious purposes.
Bengali households refer to periods as shorir kharap (feeling unwell). Unless your mum is woke, the conversation about menstruation can begin with how you’re supposed to be careful around strangers, or the things you are and are not allowed to ‘touch’.
It’s this treatment of periods as a topic that’s as untouchable as sex, that gets people riled up for speaking about it in relation to our gods and goddesses. “Isn’t it hypocritical that we treat Ma Durga as our daughter, but we can’t accept a natural process that all daughters go through? Who are we really shielding when we become so angry about talking about gods and menstruation. Celebrating the menstrual cycle of a goddess at the Kamakhya Temple every year is convenient, but this is not?” asks Mitra.
Ambubachi Mela is a four-day celebration of the menstruation cycle of Hindu Goddess, Kamakhya. Every year, lakhs of pilgrims attend the festival at Assam’s Kamakhya Temple.
Mitra claims that those hurling verbal abuses at him had completely missed the point that he was trying to make. “People have even threatened me and tried to blame for trying to gain publicity with my artwork. That was not my intention. I just wanted to start a discourse on normalising periods. I just had faith that if we can celebrate movies like Pad Man, then what’s the problem in openly talking about it? But we’re clearly not ready for it.”
Since he put up the post a few days ago, trolls have verbally abused Mitra and even threatened to file an FIR with Kolkata Police.
Translation: Sex, menstrual, masturbation…. of course need to be talked about openly. We live in the 21st century. We no longer live in a time where topics like this need to be spoken about in private. But that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to show a pad with Ma Durga. I agree with the thought that went behind this, but the language of protest must also be kept in check. I protest against the obscenity that was used in the picture…. Every time I see the picture, I am disgusted by it. No one has the right to hurt religious sentiments. I just want to say one thing in the end…chee!”
(Second comment) Translation: I was bound to file a report with the Kolkata Police.
Mitra further talks about how it exposes the double standards in people. “We talk about treating the women in our country as goddesses. But if we don’t accept or talk about periods then how will we ever know or even begin to understand what all women go through for a few days every month?”
After repeated verbal abuse Mitra was forced to take down the post. So the question is, has this country reached a point where trolls have the last laugh?