Durga Puja is a time of festivity and fervour. It is a time to celebrate Durga, the goddess who has been synonymous to the power of woman. Yet, every year, many women are barred from taking part in Puja festivities because of one thing - menstruation.
In India, menstruation continues to be a taboo and several traditions and rituals deny menstruating women from getting equal and dignified treatment. Not allowing women near places of worship during menstruation is one such taboo that recently came into focus after the Supreme Court set aside a decades-old ban on women between the ages of 13 to 50 from entering the Sabrimala temple. And with Durga Puja coming up next month, an artist has gone a step further to draw attention to the dichotomy between worshipping a woman deity but not respecting the rights and comfort of women in real life.
Aniket Mitra, a graphic designer who works with the Hindi film industry has created a poster depicting a sanitary napkin. The napkin is surrounded by a decorative halo usually seen around the representations of the goddess. A red lotus is painted on the napkin. With the poster, the artist wanted to start a conversation about the rights of menstruating women. To him, it was unthinkable that women who wait eagerly for the annual festival were banned from participating in pujas and kept away from ceremonial alters and 'puja samagri'.
"I have watched first my sisters and now my wife struggle with taboos regarding their periods. I have seen them be asked to not come to certain places because they are menstruating. As someone living in 2018, this infuriates me," Mitra told News18.
But it is not just the discrimination that moved Mitra. According to the Mumbai based artist, the fact that so few facilities were available for menstruating women in public spaces was even more appalling.
"Every year, the state government spends a lot of money during Puja. Committee also raise a lot of money for their respective pandals. Everyone knows that women are going to be out on the streets. Yet no one ever tries to get vending machines that dispense cheap sanitary pads in pandals. No one tries to get clean bathrooms for women," Mitra said.
He hoped his initiative would help bring these issues to notice. However, the artist who had posted the image on his Facebook page had to take down the image because of incessant trolling. Many on social media reacted with anger at the post, with some referring to him as 'anti-Hindu', other calling him 'anti-national' and some accusing him of insensitivity towards Indian religion and culture.
In fact, the artist claimed that the trolls had even found his wife and brother and other family members who were also being harassed. Spurred by the Sabarimala debate that ensued days after the image was released, the trolling reached such levels that an insecure Mitra had to finally remove the post.
"I hear there is even an attempt to lodge a complaint against me. But I have faith in Kolkata Police. Don't think they would respond to such a baseless complaint," Mitra said.
The artist said that for him, art was a form of protest and this was an issue he felt strongly about. However, what surprised him was the opposition he had to face from women themselves, many of whom told him that such things should not be posted in 'public'. But despite the brickbats, Mitra hoped that his initiative would have some impact and may even lead to generating much-needed conversation about menstrual health and discrimination in modern day India.