By keeping need-based menstrual hygiene products in a significantly high tax bracket (12%) under the new General Sales Tax (GST) regime, the government has missed a crucial opportunity of affecting a decisive change in how menstruation in perceived in India – both on a material and psychosocial level.
Material, because zero taxation translates to greater affordability and in turn, higher accessibility. This is crucial because almost 88% of Indian women resort to using cloth, ashes and other such alternatives, instead of sanitary napkins. Psychosocial, because the institutional action could have trickled down to the popular level, and slowly, but surely, altered perceptions regarding menstrual practices. This is more so in this particular case because the GST has already captured significant space in the general public discourse, and become the centre of popular scrutiny. But, unfortunately, the government failed to make use of this pivotal policy move.
In fact, by exempting sindoor (vermillion) and bangles from the tax slab under the same tax regime, the government perhaps unwittingly consolidated a deep-seated social belief: that the female gender can be legitimately hinged on bifurcated notions of ‘purity’ and ‘impurity’, wherein the former can be easily and affordably achieved through culturally-attested accessories and the latter can be suppressed through the tabooisation of what (apparently) causes it, that is, menstrual bleeding. Nothing, after all, warrants a state subsidy on something that is directly attached to an ‘impurity’, right?
“Periodtalk” is a poem that unflinchingly confronts this bizarre ‘pure-impure’ dichotomy that the recent GST tax slabs encapsulate. It talks about a bunch of tropes that every Indian woman has to bear with at some point in her life – all casual narratives that emanate from the larger belief that something as natural as menstrual bleeding is impure, socially unacceptable, and rather, abominable.
Written and performed by: Mekhala Saran, a student of English Literature at Ramjas College, Delhi University
Direction, cinematography and editing by Angshuman Choudhury, a confilct analyst and independent journalist based in New Delhi.