“Maaaa! See what has happened to me.” Rita started crying and ran towards her mother who was cooking food in one corner of their hut. Sheela looked at her terrified daughter and asked her what was wrong and why was she shouting early in the morning. Rita shyly turned back and showed the stains on her skirt. Sheela understood what had happened. She left the roti she was making and went to the trunk. She pulled out an old ‘gamcha’, cut it into pieces and asked her daughter to put it on her pants. Rita looked confused and was almost in tears. Her mother asked her to sit down and explained that since now she is a grown up girl, her ‘mens’ has started and it will happen every month for about 6-7 days. She advised Rita to not go to school and sit somewhere quietly in the house.
Rita obeyed her mother and went to the back of their house and placed the cloth on her pant as instructed by her mother. She then washed the skirt on which she could see large red stains. She was sure that this was God’s way of punishing her for eating the laddoo which her mother had kept for her brother. By then her stomach started paining and she went inside and lay down on the cot. Her mother told her to eat the food that she had cooked and clean the utensils when she felt better. Rita fell asleep after a while. In the evening, Lakshmi, her friend from school came looking for her. She was asking her why she did not attend school that day. Rita started sobbing and told her what had happened with her today. On listening to this, Lakshmi started laughing and said, “Oh Rita, you are worrying for no reason. This happens to every girl. Haven’t you heard of ‘mahavari’? Even my didi has it and very soon I’ll be having it too. You stop worrying and come to school tomorrow.”
The next day, Rita still felt dizzy but she didn’t want to miss school. Like the previous day, she put some extra layers of cloth on her pant and stepped out of her house. She felt uncomfortable but she had no other option. On reaching school, she went straight to her classroom and sat in one corner. She didn’t want other girls to notice what was going on with her. This uneasiness continued everywhere she went for the next few days. Finally, her first month of horror was over. Her mother washed those soiled cloths with detergent, put some neem leaves on them and dried them in the sun to be used next month.
The next month when she had her periods, Rita was using those pieces of cloth which her mother had cleaned for her. After the first two days, Rita felt some irritation in her vaginal area. Later she saw that there was some redness in that area and it was itching continuously. When she told her mother about this, she realized that it was an infection. Her mother told her it was nothing to be worried about. The infection stayed for few weeks accompanied with fever and general uneasiness throughout the day.
Three months later, a local NGO held a Menstrual Hygiene camp in the government school in which Rita used to study. There for the first time, Rita came to know about sanitary pads. The NGO also distributed sanitary pads to every student present. After the camp, Rita had many unanswered questions. She kept thinking that going by what was told in the camp, if the packet she was holding contained necessary material for every girl on periods, then why had she not heard of it before? She went home and asked her mother if she knew about sanitary pads. Sheela looked at her innocent daughter and tried to explain to her that they cannot afford such pads every month and so they have always been using the cloth during their periods. Rita did not argue with her mother. She kept the packet which had the sanitary pads inside the trunk, knowing that she will never use them.
That night, Rita could not sleep. She kept remembering what the madam from the NGO had told them today. She realized that those used pieces of used cloth caused infection and uneasiness for her. She could not understand why would something so important for all girls were so expensive that people like her to are not able to afford them. Shouldn’t the ‘sarkar’ provide this for free to ensure proper hygiene and comfort for every girl? She did not know whom to blame; her parents for not getting her something essential, the government for not thinking about girls like her or the NGO for introducing her to something which she cannot afford. Could she ask her mother to save some money every day to buy one small packet of sanitary pads? She decided to talk to her mother again on this topic.
Till today, almost 70% women in rural India use cloth during their menstruation days. Rita, a young girl from rural Bihar is one of them. For Rita, her menstrual days each month are a difficult set of days. This innocent girl has a lot of questions regarding the cost, availability and affordability of sanitary pads which keeps her worried daily. Can her country answer them for her?