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As A Man, I Support #HappyToBleed. It’s High Time We Do Away With Menstrual Taboos!

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By Sukhjeet Singh:

Nowadays every news channel, social networking site, magazines like Youth Ki Awaaz, Countercurrents.org are talking about an issue, a social campaign named Happy To Bleed. The campaign started from a controversy about Sabrimala Temple, and before pondering over the controversy, I would like to add certain information about the temple itself. Sabrimala Temple is situated in Pathanamthitta district, Ranni tehsil, Kerala. It is one of the largest annual pilgrimages in the world, with estimated 1 million devotees visiting every year. Sabrimala is believed to be the place where the ‘Hindu God’ Ayappa meditated after killing the powerful demoness, Mahishi. Sabrimala is linked to Hindu pilgrimage, predominantly for men of all ages. Females who menstruate are not allowed to enter the temple since the story attributed to Ayappa prohibits the entry of women in the menstrual age group. This is also because Ayappa is a ‘Brahmachari’, a celibate.

Keeping in accordance with the devotion and rigidity of the celibate, the newly elected Devaswom chief Prayar Gopalakrishnan said on November 13 that, “A time will come when people will ask if all women should be disallowed from entering the temple throughout the year. These days there are machines that scan bodies and check for weapons. There will be a day when a machine is invented to scan if it is the ‘right time’ (not menstruating) for a woman to enter the temple. When that machine is invented, we will talk about letting women inside.” After giving this statement, he might have considered himself as someone great, who did a humanitarian and religious act by saying something like this, and he might have relaxed himself. But, a commotion was created when Nikita Azad, a student activist from Punjab answered the Sabrimala chief in her open letter. In her letter, she appealed to end all kinds of gender discrimination. As time passed, the letter reached different magazines, and became a national issue. After receiving massive support all over India, the letter took the form of a social media campaign, ‘Happy To Bleed’. The name is a taunt, an attack on every such belief, practice, statement, and human that upholds the feudal-patriarchal values of a male dominated society, and exploits half the humanity.

Image source: Happy To Bleed/Facebook
Image source: Happy To Bleed/Facebook

I am associated with the campaign from Day 1, and I strongly support this initiative. I, along with some of my friends, have campaigned in Punjabi University, Patiala. We are continuously engaging with students in order to create awareness among them. Although many people of our nation support this campaign, they hesitate in openly supporting it. It is quite difficult for them to say ‘Happy to Bleed’ because of social conditioning. Either they feel embarrassed, or they consider speaking openly about menstruation as a sin, downgraded thing, etc. After analysing such a situation, I think campaigns like Happy To Bleed are very important to challenge these so-called values, ethics, and myths.

There are many other temples, religious institutions, social spaces and political institutions which uphold discrimination like this openly, spread menstrual taboos, create shame about sex, and inculcate gender inferiority in women. Here, some people would say that we are confusing issues, but actually we are placing issues as such, and by not isolating them, we are portraying the exact picture of society. Now, if we talk about the mentality of the temple’s chief, not letting women enter a temple in the name of a celibate god creates an inferiority complex and humiliation about menstruation in women’s minds. This is the reason why many dalit women, women who belong to villages, working class women, feel ashamed to talk about menses to anybody, because god himself had branded them as impure! Because of extreme poverty, and menstrual taboos, women are forced to use clothes etc., and lock themselves in room for five days, only because they undergo a very biological process! Because of lack of correct information about menstruation, many women develop serious diseases, and infections.

The temple authorities repeatedly claim that the actual reason why women are not permitted is that their God is a celibate, so I would like them to answer a few questions. Is their God so weak that in order to protect his celibacy, he needs a team of priests guarding him? Or, will their God be aroused if women enter the temple, and come out of the idol? If he is God, who supposedly exists everywhere, kan kan me bhagwan, how does he protect himself from bleeding women of society?

Another argument is placed, that this custom was made by our ancestors, so it is correct, and we must follow it. Let me ask a question, our ancestors made Sati Pratha, Devdasi Pratha, Dowry system, casteism, so shall we go on following everything blindly? The criteria for a thing to be correct is not its oldness or that it has been made by our ancestors. Its relevance, correctness is judged from the impact it makes on society in a specific historical time and space. Change is the law of nature. Everything in society changes, whether it is religion, an ideology, a law, or a custom because stagnation puts an end to the thing itself. Along with it, listening to our ancestors, and deciding which ancestor we will follow, whose teachings we will uphold, depends entirely on us. Among our ancestors, we have had Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Kabir, Ravidas etc. who have spoken against every form of gender discrimination, casteism, Brahmanism, etc and have shown a progressive way to people.

Let us get back to periods. Those who consider women impure because of the blood that comes out of her body have perhaps forgotten that it is this blood only which gives birth to a new life. If women stop bleeding, will human race be able to continue? In that case, let alone human, even any god will not be able to incarnate. Every human, even those who enter Sabrimala temple are products of this blood. A man spends nine months in this blood while he is in his mother’s womb. It is this blood with which every human is covered at his birth; he takes the first bath in this blood. If this blood is impure, then everybody who enters Sabrimala is impure, and those who consider this blood impure, are indirectly questioning the purity of their god also!

According to ‘their history’, Lord Ayappa was the son of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. Since it was not possible for a child to take birth from two men, Lord Vishnu incarnated as a young, bleeding woman, Mohini. From Mohini and Shiva, took birth Ayappa. So, should we consider Mohini also impure? If yes, then Lord Ayappa had taken birth in the womb of that woman only. The women whom the patriarchs brand as impure, have forgotten that even Lord Vishnu had to incarnate as one. According to this story, the presence of a young woman is the pre-condition of the existence of Lord Ayappa. Secondly, what is the criteria of the purity of those men who enter temple? Which machine is installed which checks men? Who knows whether somebody having anti-society thoughts enters, or somebody who regularly beats his wife, or somebody who locks his daughters in homes, or somebody who is murderer! What is the opinion of temple about these impurities?

Instead of giving answers to these questions, some people negate these as stemming from a western understanding. I think, arguing with logic and science has now become a western culture. Only if one upholds Brahmanism and mythology, that is the Indian culture. The relation of this nation with science and logic is continuously breaking. If the situation stagnates, a day will come when even thinking beyond the periphery of Brahmanism and mythology will be made illegal. I want to appeal to such people that you should please open your minds. In the entire campaign, we have talked about equality, which is neither western nor eastern, but humanitarian. If anything in this issue can be unscientific, it is that machine which the temple chief wants to install. We are only talking about giving women an equal position in society. We are only saying that bleeding is a natural process which is fundamental to reproduction. Considering women impure on this basis, is not only anti-women, but also anti-nature, and anti-humanity.

Anyway, opposition is a normal thing. All humans do not think similarly at one time in a society. Every idea has a favour and against, but these must be based on some logic and science. If opposition is scientific, only then that idea develops, and thus we welcome all scientific opposition of this campaign. But, the kind of resistance that we have seen till date, it compels me to say only one thing, “Wah re mere tolerant hindustanio!”

Up till now, I have only heard about this form of opposition, but faced it for the first time. We have been showered with some shocking laurels like Muslim, Dalit, ‘Go and ask your community’, anti-hindu, naxalites, leave the country , let us beat them etc. Really, after observing this, I understand what is intolerance. We have only launched a week long social media campaign, but when this campaign will reach the masses, who knows what will happen, but whatever it will be, will fall under ‘intolerance’.

We have to think of how to expand this campaign. This discrimination should be exposed in front of those women who accept this for their entire lives without raising a single question. We must reveal the reality of this nation’s calling itself the world’s number one democracy. We must expose how this system crushes democracy and endorses ages old customs and traditions. We must uncover the so-called progressiveness of this society and its nexus with feudal-patriarchal values. We must put forward its hypocrisy which on one hand, boasts of its progressiveness and on the other hand, engenders gender discrimination, casteism, patriarchy, and other reactionary tools for dual oppression of women.

I appeal, not only to every woman, but also to every man, to take this campaign to all different corners of society. Being a man, I would like to say that we men, who have considered women not human, but a slave, a maid, a cook, a caretaker, should stop seeing women as our property in the name of ‘honour’. We should stand with them in solidarity in their fight against breaking the chains of slavery, and dual oppression (classiest, gender), which is against every form of gender discrimination, exploitation; which is for equality, freedom, and respect.

You must be to comment.
  1. The Joker

    A douchebag fighting on behalf of women, to feel like a man. Shame.

  2. Batman

    The modern Indian woman is a bitch and media is their pimp.

    purushatma.wordpress.com

  3. Spider-Man

    Menstrual blood is impure. End of discussion. If you have free time, watch Pyar Ka Punchnama 2. A woman’s mind is impure too.

  4. G.L.

    Women leave their children with maids to go and work. They are neither available for their children, nor financially avaible to one man. They are money whores.

    1. Anders

      Not all women leave their kids with maids. My wife stays home all day with our kids and she cooks and cleans and makes sure my kids are well taken care of. My house and clothes are clean, my meals are cooked for me and my kids are happy and healthy. She also never asks me for anything unless she REALLY needs it. She is a great mother and wife. I have been with her since we were teenagers and she has only ever had me and no one else.

      Hard to believe coming from an American man with an American wife I know but there are still great women out there if you look hard enough.

  5. Parveen Poonia

    Respect Women..
    Ur Mother is also a menstrual woman

  6. Parveen Poonia

    Respect women..
    Ur mother is also Menstrual women

  7. Subramanian

    Well I would like to add by actually giving you some facts about sabarimala. Before that just 2 things
    Lord is called Lord because he loves all his kids unconditonally. He is the supreme power who is above all material things in the world.

    A request to all believers non believers or skeptics do not talk vaguely about any person, belief, tradtion or God himself

    However having said the above. Sabarimala is a shrine for lord Ayyappan, who is a chronic bachelor or “brahmachari”.
    He took a vow of celibacy due to which women are not allowed into the premises.

    The Sabarimala pilgrimage ritual is also very stringent and difficult.
    It involves 41 days of celibacy, cooking one's own food, wearing all black, not wearing footwear, not trimming or shaving body hair and nails and wearing the sacred garland (mala) for obviuos reasons as the pilgrimage involves a rigorous journey through forest and women would find it difficult to undergo such hardships due to their biological reasons.

    In modern times, the temple premises and the roads leading to it have been cleared out. But in the past, it was notorious for wild animals, thorny and stony paths and was all in all a very arduous journey.

  8. Sheeba Sulthana

    Looks like the Spider Man, Batman and the Joker have lost their marbles. Too bad, coz I for one dug the Joker’s cruel truths. But in this comment thought, he’s just plain cruel.

    This is a good article, definitely. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary to go to any religious place to find God in. But on the grounds of freedom and equality, I also think it’s totally unfair that women can’t enter temples that they wanna enter.

    Lord Ayappan was a Brahmachari. A bachelor. A celibate. Great! No problem. So why should women be prohibited from entering? They should visit the temple in relief and with their guard down actually, thankful that there’s at least one place where they won’t be hit on or stripped down visually. Isn’t that only logical?

    Also, another comment read that women get tired with the 41 day procedure and the walking on bare feet thing. That it becomes difficult and arduous for them for “biological” reasons. *Slow claps* For caring so much that you start making their decisions. A suggestion – stop it.

    If women wanna do it despite their well, biological reasons, then let them! That is a sincere devotee right there. Acknowledge the fact that they wanna do it anyway and most importantly, don’t stand in their way.

    But I am afraid, your age old traditions have become so internalised not just in you men, but in women too. And I doubt that I will find women, who would take this 41 day journey, not just to find their way to the lord, but also to equality and freedom. Too many obstacles in their way, both divine, and mortal.

    I will be ofcourse, happy to be proved wrong.

    Meanwhile, let me find God right within me and in everything surrounding me. And let me contemplate of the utter ridiculousness that’s plaguing humanity.

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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.

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 native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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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

Find out more about her campaign here.

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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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

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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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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