SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir — While the world is social distancing to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, young couples in Kashmir say the lockdown has spawned situations that led to some unexpected firsts that brought them closer together.
Two husbands, who stepped out to buy sanitary pads for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown was announced in March, told HuffPost India about how it felt hunting for personal hygiene items for their wives in the mostly Muslim and conservative Kashmir Valley.
Suhail Siddiqui, an engineer employed at a private telecom company in Srinagar, said, “People often raise their eyebrows when a man goes to a pharmacy to buy sanitary pads. Suddenly, every single person begins to give you that strange look.”
Saima and Suhail
With their hands full with the housework and taking care of their children, who were now always at home, many women in Kashmir rarely ventured out during the coronavirus lockdown. If there was any skirting the lockdown to get basic provisions, the men stepped out.
Siddiqui’s wife, Saima Bhat, was in a bind about how to broach the topic of the sanitary pads in her husband’s home.
“We had still not completed the first year of our marriage and I was not that frank with my mother-in-law or sisters-in-law. I was totally confused as to who to ask for help. People expect women to get pregnant as soon as they get married. This was also the reason I couldn’t approach my mother-in-law,” she said. “So, I finally decided to ask my husband.”
On 5 April, Bhat told him that she was running out of her stock of sanitary pads. The next day, the 30-year-old said that she had to step out for sanitary pads as her periods were due that day.
Siddiqui replied that it was not safe and only he would venture out. After stepping out later that day, the 33-year-old engineer asked his wife to text him the specifications of the sanitary pads that she needed.
Sanitary pads, Siddiqui said, were hard to find in the lockdown.
“I had to present my movement pass at various places to buy the pads since local pharmacies were out of stock and major pharmacists had them at that point of time,” he said.
While standing in a line where customers were required to stand six feet apart, Siddiqui braced himself for the strange looks that he knew he would get and decided to soldier on.
“At the time of social distancing, you have to shout things out. A whisper doesn’t work,” he said. “People gave me that look but all I had in my mind was my wife.”
Bhat said, “I know how hard it was for him but he somehow managed.”
“People gave me that look but all I had in my mind was my wife.”
Irfana Zargar, the famous “pad woman” of Kashmir who stocks public washrooms with sanitary pads, said that she had received 4,000 requests during the coronavirus lockdown, most of them from men.
In one instance, Zargar said that a father of two daughters had searched several markets for sanitary pads during the lockdown, and then cycled over to her house to pick up menstruation kits.
“I am getting requests from brothers and fathers to deliver the pads at their doorsteps. The response is so overwhelming. The times are definitely changing,” she said.
“The times are definitely changing.”
Naureen and Rameez
Naureen Raja was stunned when her husband Rameez Nazir refused her initial requests to buy sanitary pads for her shortly after the lockdown.
According to Raja, a 31-year-old government employee, he said, “I have never done it nor would I ever do it.”
“When a man can buy other things why cannot he buy a sanitary pad?” she hit back.
After Raja put her foot down, Nazir, a 31-year-old lawyer, agreed on one condition.
“I had to jot down what all I need so that he doesn’t have to utter a word to the pharmacist,” she said. “A taboo has been set around menstruation across almost all cultures. The only thing it is associated with is shame and fear.”
Nazir is not happy about shopping for sanitary pads in Srinagar, but he recognises that his reluctance is misplaced.
“Our society is yet to normalise this phenomenon. The taboo, stigma, gossip and shame still revolve around menstruation and I for one don’t want to get involved in any kind of gossip. But then I had no other option in the lockdown but to buy it,” he said.
However, buying sanitary pads is not an ordeal for some men. Arif Rashid, a 35-year-old journalist, who said things are changing in Srinagar, routinely buys sanitary pads for his wife.
“Whenever I buy groceries, I call my wife to enquire whether she or anybody in the family needs women hygiene products,” he said.
His wife, who requested her name not appear, said, “It feels completely normal when he buys me sanitary pads.”
“When a man can buy other things why cannot he buy a sanitary pad.”
Maliha, a 21-year-old commerce student from district Anantnag, said that her father had ventured out to buy sanitary pads ever since the coronavirus lockdown.
“There is no hard and fast rule that only girls can go and get it due to social taboos. It feels absolutely normal when the opposite gender buys you sanitary pads,” she said, speaking over the phone. “We have normalised menstruation in our family and everyone else should regardless of anything.”
Her 47-year-old father, Niyaz Ahmad, who shops in a local market in Anantnag, said, “Since the lockdown I have always been buying pads for my wife and daughter.”