Periods shaming in India: Time to fight the taboo

Periods shaming is largely prevalent in India and has gone unchecked because the roots of it lie in our culture. This happens and we all know it but why isn’t someone doing something about it. Today as I was sipping my coffee in the morning, I came through a post sent to me by my friend Roopali from Noida about a shocking incident that came to fore in Muzaffarnagar in the state of Uttar Pardesh. I hope the Chief Minister, Mr Yogi Adityanath, will take note of the incident.

About 70 girls were ‘stripped’ naked by a school warden of a residential school in Muzzafarnagar, who reportedly saw menstural blood on the floor of the hostel’s bathroom. The girls were allegedly made to sit in the classroom in that state.

The school, Kasturba Gandhi Residential School, has initiated an investigation against the warden. According to an NDTV report, one of the students said, “There was no teacher around. We were called downstairs (from the hostel). Madam made us to take off our clothes saying she will beat us if we did not. We are kids, what could we do? She would have beaten us had we not obeyed her.”

At least 35 students have left the facility. Many of them have come forward with similar allegations.

The warden has been removed and an inquiry has been initiated. But, does it end here? The problem is not what the warden did, the problem is what made the warden think that menstruating is criminal and deserves to be shamed.

I had a friend in Ferozepore as a child. She lived in a joint family and had several aunts. Her aunts and her mother would restrain from entering the family kitchen on certain days and would cook for themselves at a small kitchen made away from the family kitchen. The kitchen had separate utensils too. When I asked her that why was this happening, she said that they are impure for certain days and aren’t allowed to enter the kitchen and eat what is cooked for the family. So, they have to cook for themselves and not interact with the male members of the family during those days. I came back and told my mother about it, to which she said that my grandmother also didn’t allow my mother to enter the kitchen during those days until my grandmother fell ill and my mother had to do the home chores.

This left a deep scar on my outlook towards a boy and a girl. It told me that I am a girl and I am different. There is something different about being a girl. Thankfully, I did not get the disturbing feeling of being impure etc. due to the exposure I had in life.

During the olden times, the wise must have thought that women need to rest during menstruation and thus came the cultural diktat but the decree was abused, altered to such an extent that women were considered impure and what not. A minister was quoted as saying that women must not enter religious places during those days. This is preposterous to me. That man should be told that when he was inside his mother’s body, he was surrounded by the same blood that he and his god-forsaken society considers impure.

Some facts (TOI report)

  • Only 12% of India’s 355 million menstruating women use sanitary napkins, rest use old rags, unsanitised cloth, ashes and husk sand. In comparison, 100% women in Singapore and Japan, 88% in Indonesia and 64% in China use napkins.
  • Incidents of Reproductive Tract Infection (RTI) is 70% more common among these women.
  • Inadequate menstrual protection makes adolescent girls (age group 12-18 years) miss five days of school in a month (50 days a year). Around 23% of these girls actually drop out of school after they start menstruating.
  • Around 70 per cent of women cannot afford sanitary napkins. (If you have a maid working in your house, ask her if she needs assistance for herself and her daughters and ensure that a packet or two is given to her every month. If you won’t, nothing will change and the taboo with periods will continue in our society).

Today, through this post, I urge parents to change the mindset among their children about periods. Daughters should not be told that something different has happened to them when they reach the age and sons should be taught to be more accepting of this natural cycle. A woman is already going through discomfort during those days and the least she needs is a lecture on what she should do and not do.

It is 2017, we still tell women and girls how to dress up, we tell them to drink but not like men because they can’t hold their drinks, we tell them not to put their under garments out in the sun, we tell them not to venture out at night because some demented man will consider them to be ‘available’. Every single day, we are telling them to do things that make men important and everything women do should be done considering men. Really? And why?

We are not modern yet. Modernity comes from your thoughts. You might be clad in a saree and not know English, yet be modern. We need to forego the belief that people who do not converse in English or do not wear short dresses aren’t modern. Uplifting the lives of people around you is being modern, considering someone else’s discomfort is being modern, considering male, female and other sex as equal is being modern, ensuring your personal and financial independence is being modern, taking care of your parents being women is being modern.

Last but not the least, we are examples to our children, they will learn and accept what we believe and teach them. So, ladies the next time you pass a statement like, “I don’t know how to drive or I have to ask papa if he allows this or don’t go outside to play as you are having your periods”, remember, your daughter is getting OK with the fact that women do not have to drive because men do and it is OK for men to decide everything that takes place in the lives of women associated with them and that periods are something that will make her give up many things in life. Trust me, your effort to educate a girl is going in vein if this is how you think and do.

Change! And change for the better.

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