“If a boy touches you during your period, you will die.”
The words were like an ultimatum to my 10-year-old self, the girl who still slept between her parents, head nestled in the crook of Daddy’s arm, whose grandfather loved giving her piggybacks. It hit me pretty hard. I’d have to sleep alone. And then the monsters would get me.
“What are periods?” I remember asking my parents at dinner that night. A look passed between them and then they explained. Both of them. Your body has eggs. If they’re fertilised, they become babies. If not, your body doesn’t need them. So they come out in the form of periods. “A bit like susu, except that it keeps coming out and your stomach and back might hurt a bit. You’ll have to wear a pad. It’s a bit like a diaper. You stick it in your underwear and it absorbs the blood.”
That was it in my Primary School world.
Three years later, in High School, being hit by puberty smack in the face, I realised what periods actually were. Moodiness, Pain, Soreness, Nausea, and the worst part, having to hide it. It was ok at home, I could curl up into a ball and tell people exactly what was happening to me and be left alone. School, however, was another story. “Don’t talk about it, man. It’s dirty and they don’t need to know.” I remember a peer telling me. “They” being our male classmates. Heavy bags, PT classes, stairs, it made for a hellish three days every month.
Eleventh grade and Socially Useful Productive Work took me to a school in a slum, a small, one-room structure, into which kids between the ages of 5 and 14 were crammed. It was here that I heard just how bad the menstrual situation was. They told me of mothers, sisters and sisters-in-law, who had no access to any sort of menstrual sanitation. Rags, sometimes even newspaper was bundled into one’s underwear, in an attempt to absorb the blood. The rags were washed and reused, even. It horrified and saddened me. “Pads are so expensive, Miss.” Said one of my students. “My family can’t afford to spend that kind of money.”
That quiet resignation to one’s fate is what still haunts me today. In this world, where condoms can be distributed free of charge, why can’t pads? Why do they have to be so expensive, especially in India, in a society that already looks at menstruation as taboo? Ultra Thins, Maxi, Cotton, Gel… The list is endless. But what’s the point of all of that if more than half the women can’t afford it?