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Menstruating Is Not A Crime – Stop Discussing It In Hushed Whispers!

By Sourav Panda:

I was seven years old, or maybe eight, and had started doing minor shopping for my parents. It usually happened when mom was busy cooking and she suddenly realizes that a couple of ingredients are missing. She used to quickly grab a pen, find out a piece of paper, scribble whatever it was which she wanted and handed the paper to me. I used to go to the shop, handover the list, have a chat with the shopkeeper (which usually meant I would be playfully teased by him), get the stuff and come back home showing-off my new purchase, even if it were only a packet of iodized salt. I grew up doing this and hence, I have a fantastic rapport with the shopkeepers of my area. They have seen me grow up!

menstrual taboos

But as I entered my ninth or tenth year, I started going to the pharmacies in my area. And the frequency of these visits was more or less fixed. But I did not have the same kind of a rapport with the pharmacists in the shop. I would enter the shop, give him a paper with only one thing written on it. On seeing the list, he would quietly get the product, wrap it up in a newspaper, give me a black carry-bag and send me off. I was unable to show-off the product and I failed to understand the mystery behind this activity. Somehow, I never questioned my mom or my sister. Or maybe I had and never got a reply. But nevertheless, I kept doing this till an age by which I understood what I was actually doing. I was buying sanitary pads for my mother and sister. I, as any curious young child will do, asked my friends at school. None of us knew what it was. Some wise guy of our batch professed that he knew everything about pads. The rest of us went to him. He sat on a bench, wore a grim look on his face and started his rant about how sanitary pads are used by women to absorb blood if they get hurt. We thought we were enlightened enough and came back with the notion that it is very similar to a gauge-bandage.

Sigh! Those days of innocence!

Now that I am an adult, I do understand what menstruation is, what a sanitary pad does, and how a majority of rural Indian women do not have access to a proper sanitary pad and use cloth/sack instead. But I fail to understand one thing, and this is one of the most prolonged unanswered queries that I’ve had – “Why do women hush themselves when it comes to discussing menstruation?”

Menstruation is something which women can’t avoid, at least naturally. It is something which the men are bound to know while growing up with sisters or girlfriends. If it is something so obvious, why does the society consider it a taboo?

Why did the pharmacist wrap it up in a newspaper? Why were most of my friends clueless about this totally natural phenomena. A student failing in a class, and not promoted to the next year is embarrassing – agreed. But why do we have to get embarrassed about something which is practically, inevitable?

Forget about childhood. My friends feel extremely shy to say that they have to go and buy tampons, in emergency, for their girlfriends. I don’t see many men going to the pharmacy store to buy sanitary pads for their wives/daughters. And strangely enough, not keeping pace with the otherwise modern society, the pharmacist still wraps up the packet, and gives it in a black bag. Why is it such a big deal for my friends to say that the reason for them not coming to the adventure island is because they have their menses on? Why do they have to lie that they have fever?

Giving it a thought, I believe the origin of such a taboo or the so-called “fever days” was because of the regressive attitude of the family members in the previous generations. Women, who had their periods on, were treated as untouchables. And, suddenly as if they have contracted a deadly communicable disease, people surrounding her would start avoiding her for the entire week. It used to take her seven days before she could enter the normal social cycle. Having visited some villages during my education, I would not deny that this attitude still prevails in them. Perhaps not as regressive as our grandmothers or their mothers had faced, but still very regressive compared to the advancement in the society.

But of all these, the most appalling fact is that the modern day women – my friends who have done their masters from reputable colleges of the world, still shy away from talking about their periods. The other day, a friend of mine and I were watching videos on YouTube when the advertisement of a tampon popped up. She felt awkward and immediately switched tabs. She was perfectly educated, a woman of substance with strong opinions about many world issues. Her behavior automatically questions the behavior of many such women.

How about a world where every woman can freely tell their male counterparts about their totally natural and biological processes? How about a biology class where the topic of menstruation is not rushed through with giggles across the class? How about the young brother going to the pharmacist and asking for a tampon, confidently? How about the same pharmacist giving it in a normal carry bag without wrapping it up? How about my “modern day classmates” telling me the actual reason for missing that trip?

Imagine the happiness of young teenage girl, when she can share her pain with her father without feeling guilty. Imagine the comfort of the woman getting a packet of tampon from the pharmacy without getting stared at. Imagine!

It’s time we realize that menstruating is not a crime! It’s time we stopped chuckling among ourselves every time an advertisement of a tampon brand is broadcast. It’s time we spoke up! It’s time to stop killing our freedom ourselves.

If you shut up now, you switch on the mute button forever. Make it a culture. Let’s get this transformation in ourselves and allow it to infuse in the society, across countries. Tell your twelve year old son about that product. Tell that pharmacist not to wrap it up in a newspaper. Ask your friends to stop laughing at this topic. Tell your brother to go and proudly get your monthly needs. It is YOU who can bring about this change.

From today, don’t hush it down, ever!

You must be to comment.
  1. jigyasa

    You are so right ! There’s nothing to be ashamed of.Now mum’s NOT the word 🙂

    1. sushree

      Hey a very nicely written article…but I would like to add just one thing…d old customs which u have written about women being treated as untouchables may have a superstitious meaning back then but I think it actually acted as a boon for them coz as I know heavy physical activity during “those 7 days of d month” should be avoided as much as possible..so it acted like a shield for them as in this pretext they atleast got complete rest…which back in those days for any other reason was never allowed

    2. Sourav Panda

      Hey Sushree!

      That’s a different perspective altogether. Thanks a lot for giving one great plus side of that otherwise demonic practice. The fact that the boon was intentional or incidental is highly debatable. Nevertheless, thanks a lot for showing me the silver lining in this dark cloud too.

    3. sushree

      Hey a very well written article…but I have just wanted to add one thing…d old customs that u have written about women being treated as untouchables may have a superstitious meaning back then but it also acted as a boon for women coz as I know physical stress during “these 7 days of d month” should be avoided as much as possible and I think our ancestors have very cleverly made a custom out of it so that women could use it as a shield and in this pretext take complete rest which by any other excuse wasn’t possible

  2. tikeshwar shori

    It is just a normal physical phenomina not a way to put women under some limitations. For women there is nothing to hide from others. Making Indian Men aware about such topics might change their perspective towards women.

  3. RUBIA FATHIMA

    yeah its a taboo…but now in things r little changed…..no more such practice….ppl do discuss about it…

  4. askamma

    Well said! No need to whisper and no need to skip the trip to the island either, if you feel like going.

  5. Dee

    It’s on us to break through such taboos and become bold enough to accept it…..its just a biological phenomena afterall!!! …….and such articles definitely are a step forward in that direction!!

  6. Saloni

    Great article, especially since it comes from a guy.
    I am really motivated now! Thank you for this!

  7. GARIMA KHURANA

    xactly same i do believe …why all women do talk like as if doing some crime. in such a silent manner..its a silly thng that gals need to hide from dere father ..brothers… one of ma Nepalese frnd told me that its a occasion in dere family that the gals has grown n now she can be pro creator… its a blessing n somethng natural …why we need to hide… husshhhh hushhh

  8. Lata Jha

    Glad you wrote this. Well done.

  9. Nandini

    Very well written and thank you for voicing your opinion on this ‘taboo’ topic!
    Though I would like to disagree on the origins of such taboos and discriminating ideas…. I would like to believe it all started for the convenience of women, in a age where you had no resources(napkins or tampons were distant discoveries!), nothing to ease your stabbing cramps(pain killers were unheard of), the female in the household worked from dawn to dusk, it makes sense to me for them to just sit peacefully for 5 days a month, do no work at all, no hardships and be fed well and taken care of. But like almost every other ritual in our society, instead of trying to understand the scientific reason behind such ideas, they were made into hardbound rules, and it became more of a discrimination and mental torture than peace of mind.
    Also as I see in the comments below, even I come from a society(Assam) where puberty is celebrated, with a feast for your near ones. But the celebration is just for once and then it still continues as a tabooed concept.

  10. nayal16

    nice article. But I m still going to be uncomfortable in front of my family. Its not about tampons but its relation with vaginal fluids that makes it taboo.

  11. Kajal

    An excellent article .

  12. Elaine Fernandes

    Really amazing article… I must say. I do not know if you have any idea about this, but in the years when herbs were medicines, women, during their mensuration were locked in dark rooms for the whole week. They were treated as untouchables at the time. Even now a days, when she is menstruating, she is not allowed to cook or even touch anything in the household. She isn’t even allowed to touch her own child as she is “infected” for seven days. More over, she isn’t even allowed in the “God’s Room” of the house nor in Mandirs and not allowed to touch prasaad. Why are all these restrictions given to women?

    I do not mean to offend anyone, but I still do question the Hindu religion (where there are so many Goddess or Devi) with these rules that bind women to their rooms for those 7 days a month? Every religion has some shit or the other against the women race, but to me this is simply absurd. Can someone please explain this to me?

  13. sujit kumar nath

    heyy.. well written saurav sir.. don’t knw y the society claiming itself to b ‘modern’ still has such hypocritical beliefs relating menstruation… people still having such orthodox beliefs n reffering that thing with a ‘ssshhh’ is doing nothing but implicitly promoting misogyny….

  14. Jal

    Hats off, dear writer!! What you have written is very much true. I’ve had friends hating that time of the month altogether due to the inconvenience caused. It is something very natural and quite a blessing!! And about the taboos…well these things can be discussed with peers and other women but when it comes to the male adults…I’m not quite sure. In my case, I got no issues in discussing it with my boy bestie…if ever such a topic comes up…it is totally okay!!

  15. Sridhi

    First of all-I wish I had a brother like you.
    Coming back to the article:
    Most of the facts that are natural to female and male are hushed down in our society( e.g menstrual cycle and masturbation in women and men respectively;though the later is highly condemned as it provides carnal pleasure and people tend to forget the benefits during the reproductive process)And such articles prove that we have questions to ask but lack of people to answer the questions creates a world where we are bound to accept the passivity with time . However its really ‘cool’ to read your article as it not only questions but also ‘dares’ to answer confidently that ‘natural’ isn’t ‘criminal’. We all know it but we can’t dare to follow the right path because we are alone. But this column makes it clear that its really cool to speak up and accept the reality instead of stereotypical shying away from the ‘obvious’ fact.
    Thank you for being literally ‘broad-minded’ as they say it 🙂 Lets face it and try to make the world a comfortable place to live irrespective of gender and social status..

  16. Azar Hameed Sayyed

    Awesome Article…….To add on to this the worst part is that may of the religions practices also have restrictions on women when women are undergoing the Menustrial Periods…They are considered as “Napak ” or Un clean (Like we call it in Muslims)….Many religions do not allow woman to do any religious activities when they having there MC’s….This again raises a question that why would GOD/Goddesses not allow women to do any such rituals when he/she himself /herself have given this natural pehnomena for them….Why would they become untouchable ….

  17. Nilanjana

    very well wiiten article.kudos to you for writing on such an unusual yet grave issue.i so wish people start to think in a new & dignified way @ least aftr reading this.
    Well Done!!!!

  18. Sundeep

    This is an awesome article. I will never be ashamed when I buy pads for anyone. Infact, I told my friends about this and they are going to follow me with banners and trumpets every time I go and a pack of pads. Yeah!

  19. Anirudh Chawla

    I totally agree, this topic should be talked about rather than being avoided, its a very natural phenomena, and nothing to be ashamed about. I would rather share my personal experience that times back when I was with my girl, I always knew when her menstrual period starts and would rather care more for her. Women will always feel more comfortable when they discuss it with their men (Anyone brother, husband, father, boyfriend) and men rather than avoiding or making fun of it or giggling behind their backs, understand it, respect the fact and support them.

    Peace.

  20. Emayan

    You want change? Start opening up to women about your untimely erections and farting problems and then you can expect them to open up about their natural inevitable problems, go ahead, YOU make the change, you want change then YOU have to make the first move

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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