An Open Letter To You: From The ‘Young, Bleeding Woman’ Who Shook Sabarimala

By Nikita Azad:

Dear reader,

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.

Yours sincerely,

A young, bleeding woman

– Nikita Azad is a writer and founder of the campaign ‘Happy To Bleed’.

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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.

Read more about her campaign.

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)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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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.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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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
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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