Visual artist Aniket Mitra, who happens to be a gold medallist from Kolkata’s prestigious Art College, was in for a rude shock when he uploaded his latest artwork on his Facebook wall– Goddess Durga bleeds. Aniket got ruthlessly trolled and abused online, the artist who dared to question a social dichotomy was forced to remove his artwork.
When the artist took the liberty of decorating a sanitary napkin with a chalachitra – the decorative halo that is used to adorn Goddess Durga during the most revered Bengali festival Durga Puja, Ankit had not anticipated this kind of a furore. The red lotus with some splatters in the visual perhaps was meant to artistically depict a menstruating Durga.
Speaking to eNewsroom, the artist, who didn’t want to share his work details or other information, which could help him get identified, said, “People have strongly reacted to my artwork. Some are referring me as ‘anti-Hindu’ while some are calling me an ‘anti-national’. My day starts with people verbally abusing me on social media and ends with it. It is creating havoc in my personal life. Somehow, I have become an easy target. Women are also trolling me. Many have asked me to go to Pakistan.”
The artist revealed that the idea behind his visual art was to raise a simple question – Goddess Durga is a woman, who homecoming is celebrated with great enthusiasm in Bengal. But even today hundreds of women are barred from participating in the rituals when then they are menstruating. Aniket said, “My first brush with such patriarchal practices was at my ancestral home in Midnapur. We have a 300-year-old Durga Puja celebration and I have grown up seeing how women from my family were barred from participating in any rituals when they were menstruating.” The artist was pained by this ‘cruel practice’ where women who had been eagerly waiting for the Puja festivity were not allowed to participate in any of the rituals. “Imagine their plight. I have watched my sisters, friends and now my wife being banned from participating in the Puja rituals when they were menstruating. Each time that they were barred, I felt angered. I feel infuriated that even today; we are willingly giving in to these age-old beliefs,” he said.
He then went on to add, “I can enlist a number of time when we all had planned to go pandal hopping or participate in ‘Sidur Khela’ only to witness a couple of the girls backing out, just because they were bleeding for some biological reason.”
Apart the prevalence of such archaic practices in present society, Aniket feels that the society and the government taken together do very little for menstruating women in general. “Both state government and puja committees spend exorbitant amount of money for these larger than life pandals to worship a woman. They all are aware of the fact that a huge number of women would be out on the streets, as they go pandal hopping. Yet not even once has one witnessed them install a sanitary pad vending machine to dispense even those cheap napkins, which can bail out the ladies if they start menstruating,” vented a rather agitated Aniket.
The artist perhaps wanted to highlight this issue through his art. “I am an artist and perhaps this was the only way in which I could have protested against this social dichotomy that I abhor,” he said. But instead of winning support, it was incessant trolling that he received in abundance.
The artist claimed that the trolls have even traced his wife, brother and other family members who are also being constantly harassed. The trolling reached to such fervour that a visibly threatened Aniket had to remove the post from his Facebool page. A visibly shaken Aniket said, “I hear that people are going to lodge a complaint against me. But I have faith in Kolkata Police. Don’t think they will respond to such baseless complaints.” Reacting to BJP leader Tathagata Roy’s Tweet that asked people to lodge an FIR against him he said, “I don’t know how to react to his insulation.”
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 publically. “The so-called ‘empowered women’ many of whom are progressive writers and artists have voiced their dissent. But yes along with negativity there is some positivity. Indologist and specialist of Indian epics and Puranas Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri have stood for me. It’s an honour,” he said.
Standing in support of Aniket, Mritunjay Kumar Yadavendu, assistant professor of sociology and social anthropology at Mahatma Gandhi Central University feels that it is a tool to subjugate women. “The lifeline of Hinduism is inequality and particularly patriarchal inequality. It gets reflected in notion of purity and pollution. Impurity has always to do with women. Menstruation is a natural process. To treat women abnormal is a fascist patriarchal idea. To restrict their mobility, biologically the sexual urge is high so it is a tool to control women sexuality. By barring her from public places she will not be able to express herself. She will not treat herself normally so it is easy to subjugate her. Menstruation blood is responsible for fertility so how can this blood be impure. This is the contradiction. There are numerous instances where women have been isolated, treated unequally. And this poster is challenging the very notion of Brahminical purity. It’s a welcome move,” said Yadavendu.