“दीदी, आपने लास्ट सेशन में मासिक पाली के बारे में बताया, और सेशन के दुसरे ही दिन मुझे मासिक पाली आई, सेशन के वजह से मुझे कोई दिक्कत नहीं आई।”
(Because of the last session you took with us to talk about menstruation, it was a lot easier for me to deal with my next period.)
Blood. Sweat. Tears. That’s how it starts, doesn’t it? It’s a dangerous loop – don’t talk about it, let the myths prevail, panic when you finally see red, perceive it to be some sort of cancer when in reality, fear is cancer coursing through your veins, approach the shopkeeper with caution – ask for a newspaper or black bag to hide the contents that once seen could destroy the world and every time you need to reload your ammo, make your way to the nearest change station so discreetly, that it would put Houdini to shame.
13-year old Neha’s story has a different beginning. In an environment that requires an orchestration around a natural process, Neha’s confidence exudes through a simple announcement of how she handled her first period. She sees menstruation for what it is and is willing to share her experience with her friends and peers. It is noteworthy in the Indian context where lack of sufficient knowledge and myths leave young girls and their parents unprepared to deal with menstruation and create a culture where the language used to discuss it is highly encrypted.
Sadly, millions of Nehas still navigate their way through each period playing a game of charades – using gestures to let their friends and female relatives know it’s THAT time of the month, quietly signalling them to check if they have stained their clothes. The culture of silence is an invisible monster – it speaks through legends and myths, passed down from one generation to another, paralysing young girls and women every month for 4-5 days. The kitchen, jars of pickles, places of worship, and physical contact with male members of the family often become off limits as menstruation continues to be considered bad and impure.
This ostracisation is humiliating, degrading and more painful than the physical pain endured during menstruation and often saps them of their sense of dignity. Through its program, Journey Towards Dignity, PUKAR prepares adolescent girls like Neha to take the first step towards empowerment and well-being by engaging them in discussions on sexual and reproductive health, gender, and violence.
Neha has broken the cycle and confronted her fears. Her statement is a happy declaration of the newfound understanding of her body – of menstruation as a biological process, free of guilt or misconceptions. With this victory, Neha now holds the key to bust the myths and change the attitudes around menstruation of the people in her life.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.