Deboleena is a PhD student at the Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development, Guwahati, Assam. Currently, she is at her native place in Dibrugarh because of the lockdown and is exploring the 'domestic' space and the relationship she shares with it.
The current lockdown has allowed some of us the opportunity to spend more time with and thus engage in debates with our families. This is usually difficult otherwise, given the amount of work (and stress) we have to endure in order to survive in a capitalist society.
For a Hindu upper-caste Bengali family like ours, we’ve had the historical privilege (not without some struggles, however) to have owned a home in Dibrugarh since the 1960s. Given our social and economic (lower middle class) background, by default, the daily performances of keeping the body ‘pure’ and ‘hygienic’ become powerful precepts to help preserve the status-quo of the society. To consider menstruation blood as ‘impure’ and ‘dirty’ is very much a part of this regulation. Privilege, therefore, is neatly tied to patriarchy; and for the sustenance of these norms, it's important to create a coy female body, especially by shaming, hushing and necessitating ‘maturity’ after attaining puberty.
This morning as my mother prepared ruti (chappati), I took a small portion of the dough to give it the shape of a sanitary pad. “Why?” she asked. I told her that I would wear them as earrings. While the calm natured woman didn’t utter a word, she still managed a smirk. Eventually, she too couldn’t resist being part of the ‘fun’ and even allowed me to use her red bindi (another symbol of patriarchy) on the atta (flour) pad to symbolise menstrual blood.
Later, after the ruti was ready, my father joined us at the breakfast table. He is a shy person, however, so I surreptitiously slipped the topic into our conversation. Surprisingly, he informed us about the jokes men make about menstruation.
The dough earring, with the ‘Red Bindi’ signifying menstrual blood, inadvertently became a space to express and to resist Brahmanical patriarchy over a woman’s body.