On November 20, I (Nikita Azad) wrote an open letter addressed to Sabrimala temple chief Prayar Gopalakrishnan as a response to this sexist statement that once ‘purity’ checking machines (that check whether women are menstruating or not) are invented, he will think about letting women enter the temple. The letter was first published on Youth Ki Awaaz from where it went viral on social media. After the letter was appreciated by a large number of people, we created a week-long event, ‘Happy To Bleed’ on 21st November as a social media campaign. Happily, this campaign, which began from one Facebook account, has become a national campaign, with hundreds of people participating and applauding the initiative. Also, I have been tagged as ‘anti-Hindu’, ‘anti-national’, ‘anti-Indian’, ‘prostitute’, ‘over-educated’ and have received threatening comments that the campaign should be stopped, that I should be killed. But till date these have come only in the form of comments on news surrounding my letter and the campaign.
I heartily thank everybody who has supported the campaign and stood against patriarchal practices of our society. The campaign has actually become a voice of progressive, democratic people.
Shaming menstruation is only one form of patriarchy which women are subject to, but in reality, patriarchy has comparatively more acute, concrete manifestations. Women have been considered a secondary sex all over the world, and have been secluded from production processes that form the lifeline of society. In the peculiar context of India, cultural taboos of purity-impurity have been imposed on Dalits, and women in order to legitimise the then existing ownership patterns of resources/means of production. Within this context, we see shaming menstruation as a practice, a cultural taboo that strengthens caste and class hierarchies.
In the present day world, the taboo is intertwined with women’s mobility, her right to take her own decisions, her control over her body, etc. As soon as a girl starts menstruating, a lot of insecurities around her sexual nature are built, and society starts strenuously guarding her sexual behaviour as well as other routine activities. Data reveals that 23% girls drop out of school once they start menstruating. The spaces of society shrink rapidly for women after this juncture of their lives. This leads to the denial of a lot of basic services like sanitation, healthcare, menstrual care, reproductive health etc. Particularly, because menstruation is perceived as an area of sexual health than reproductive health, there is no space for women to state their medical problems. Although there are some organizations which are vocal about reproductive health of women, their actual objective is not providing health care facilities to ‘women’, but to ‘reproductive machines’, so as to extract maximum profits.
According to a report, 88% women do not have access to sanitary napkins, and are forced to use cloth, ash, bag full of sand, or straw etc. during menstruation. This horrible situation exists because of the silence that is maintained on menstruation, and commodisation of health. What should have been the responsibility of governments, has inherently been marketed by greedy corporates for their profit making ventures. Whisper, Stayfree, sanitary cups etc. have made menstrual care for Dalit women and working class women a distant dream since they have absolutely no resources to purchase these, and have exonerated the state of its duty to provide proper menstrual care. Hereby, we strongly oppose commodisation of women’s health services, and apprehend that it is Indian state’s responsibility to ensure free menstrual care services for all sections of women. We oppose sly attempts of corporate-funded NGOs, capitalist enterprises to use patriarchy for their profit making ventures, and hereby expose the limitations and utopia of the empowerment of women as promised by the corporates and state.
With the increasing spirit of the campaign, we have decided to take it further. The campaign ends on November 27, and we hope to connect to maximum people by then. After the campaign is over, we will be publishing a report about the campaign to state our larger goals and objectives. The campaign is not against any particular religion or religious practice, but against all the menstrual taboos that exist in our society. We urge the National Commission for Women to take a stand against such discrimination, whether it is practised in some religion, or society at large. Secondly, the provision of healthy, and sustainable menstrual care to women of all sections of society is the basis to fight against mythical taboos. Therefore, the state should take the responsibility of providing free menstrual care, invest in technology and infrastructure to cater to women’s particular health concerns, instead of leaving this space to the profit mongering of market.
In the end, we extend our token of thanks to everyone who has supported the campaign. We appeal to people to look at gender oppression, of which menstrual myths are a part, historically and scientifically, instead of translating women’s health issues to capitalist appropriation.