By Nikita Azad:
The last time I wrote an open letter, it was almost a year ago when Sabarimala Devaswom Committee chief made a misogynist remark about menstruating women. Presuming that you already know about it, I would like to address this letter to you. Not to Prayar Gopalakrishnan or to the temple, but only the reader.
Ever since the campaign ‘Happy To Bleed’ started, we received an overwhelming response from all parts of the country. It made us believe that gender discrimination (in any form) is the most intolerable thing for women, which is why they have supported the campaign hugely. However, after almost a year of incessant struggle against menstrual discrimination, when we were ready to bring menstrual health into discussion, a group has started the backlash against temple entry, arguing in favour of traditions, which made me feel that it is time to address everyone together.
While I respect the choice of those women who do not wish to worship inside a temple while menstruating, I am unable to figure out why they want to prohibit those who do wish to enter. I might be a little less experienced than those women, but I have learnt one simple value. Faith knows neither gender nor age. I reject the argument that since only women of a certain age group are prohibited from entering the temple, it is not a gender issue. My humble question to all those women who wish to wait until they reach menopause is – why can’t a 16-year old girl worship while a boy of the same age can?
A man with equally active reproductive organs is allowed inside the temple while a woman is not. Is semen purer than menstrual blood? However, for us, it is not a question of pure v/s impure or men v/s women. Our fight begins from our homes and workplaces. Relatives who beat our mothers to abort us, to in-laws who burn us, to those who rape us, to temples that denigrate us, it is a struggle inherent to the struggle against patriarchy.
To understand the inferiority complex that surrounds young girls when they are prohibited from entering temples, we conducted surveys in Punjab, New Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana, and West Bengal. I would like to share two interviews with you.
The first example is of Shashi, a 15-year-old Hindu girl from an economically weaker colony in Ludhiana. When I asked her whether she worships while menstruating or goes to the temple, she responded, “If menstruation is something impure, why did God create it?” She goes to the temple whenever she wishes to and said that she would love to go to Sabarimala in the hills. She further argued that her mother, a construction worker, can work for hours with a lot of weight on her shoulders, and a trek to Sabarimala would not be difficult for her.
Another Dalit woman, Rinki, said that, “I want to worship daily, that is what worship is supposed to be, even if I menstruate. It is all a false propaganda by some people who consider menstruation impure, just as they consider us untouchable.”
We have scores of videos and interviews of women, young girls who wish to enter temples, exercise their rights, love their bodies, and who want menstruation to be accepted as a biological activity. While this is only one side of the picture, another is yet more horrific. During our survey, we did not limit ourselves to menstrual taboos but also asked women about menstrual health. The results shocked us to the core. Most of the women still use rags, old clothes, and live in perilous conditions during menstruation. Who is to be held responsible for it? Silence. Silence and stigma around menstruation that never gave space to women to demand menstrual care!
Thus, I refuse to be silent. I am not ready to wait. We are not ready to wait because we do not want more foeticides, more rapes, or more sexual assaults. Women have been waiting for years to attain equality. We are not going to cherish the Devadasi system and say, “Who is the constitution to prohibit us?” We are not going to say, “Who is the court to devoid us from the joy of waiting till we reach menopause?”
We will say, proudly, that we want to struggle, and enter Sabarimala. We want to trek and take risks. We believe in our strength and want to become even more stronger. Our fight is for gender equality, entering the temple is only the beginning.
A young, bleeding woman
– Nikita Azad is a writer and founder of the campaign ‘Happy To Bleed’.