A day at the Water & Sanitation Action Summit marked one of those days in my life where I was able to witness a diverse crowd attached to something or the other which lead to sanitation. On a random visit to one of the panel discussions happening there, the theme being on what impact does sanitation has on adolescent girls, a little girl caught my eyes sitting with her mother. She looked a bit anxious and I stood there to see what was happening.
There was a woman who was facilitating the whole discussion that she stroked on the topic: “Menstruation”. My eyes were constantly moving from this lady to that little girl. I wanted to know why she was made to sit there like that facing the rest of the crowd. Simultaneously this lady talked about the various rituals that Indian culture follows when a girl hits puberty. She gave the example of the state of Assam, where according to her people followed some inhuman practices when a girl has grown up like out casting the child for some days as if she is an untouchable and how Neha (name changed) had to go through all these at a very tender age. If you want to know more what I am talking about then read below-[Menstruation is widely considered a taboo topic and open discussions on this subject were hardly made possible. But in today’s day and time, many feminists as well as rights activists are widely talking about it. But things were different back in time where a girl’s attainment of puberty was considered significant not only for her and her family but on general social terms. Some ancient religions and civilizations from Rome to Greece do mention certain rituals which were performed when boys and girls attained puberty or adulthood. Even Hinduism has mentioned a rite of passage for the girls known as “Ritusuddhi” which is neither discussed nor mentioned nowadays. There were social systems to signify this event and the related phase in a girl’s life but it got eradicated from most Indian communities.
But here in Assam, a ritual called “TuloniBiya” is still performed to commemorate the attainment of womanhood status to a girl. TuloniBiya is a ritualistic symbolic wedding that is performed a few days after the girl has her first menstruation. It is a ritual distinct to the Hindu Tai Ahoms and many other Assamese groups who have their own theories about its significance and origins. The mock marriage of one’s daughter to the banana tree signifies the girl attaining adulthood and potential to bear a child. The girl isn’t allowed to eat anything till the 4th day when she is confined to bed in a room. Men will not be allowed in that nearby sight and she isn’t allowed to be even touched by anyone.
Generally, on the 4th day, the girl is bathed with proper wedding rituals, using maah-halodhi (turmeric ). A banana tree is planted at the site where the girl is to be bathed. On the day which the astrologer deems suitable for the “wedding”, a group of women from a different part of the village pretends to be from the supposedly groom’s side and travels to the girl’s house singing BiyaNaam(wedding songs) all the way like a real wedding. The bride’s” mother welcomes the group and rituals like an actual wedding then takes place. The wedding is generally celebrated on a large scale with members of community participating in large numbers to bless the girl into a new life!]
(Source: Fried eye media)
What is the first thing that would come to your mind once you read it? The first thought that came to my mind when I was going through the same process was why on earth people have these rituals and customs. But this day made me realize something else. There has always been a bright side to every story and I; for always have tried finding those “bright spots”. It is true what Neha has gone through should not be practiced, but it is also true that because of these rituals and customs we feel perfectly comfortable to talk about menstruation/puberty with our friends and family. Unlike the ones where girls are asked to keep quiet when they menstruate since it is an ‘sshh’ topic to talk about. Many school in India, girls feel embarrassed if they get a red stain on their skirt, but we don’t. It is most likely because our classmates already know about it. They know because most of them would have attended their female friends’ ‘Tuloni Biya’.
Recently I read news where a standard 7 girl committed suicide because she was being taunted by her own teacher after she got that red color on her skirt. I am not writing any for/against views here but what I want to throw light upon is that it is the society that makes us feel uncomfortable regarding a natural phenomenon; sometimes, more likely the women itself. I could not resist myself going to the podium and tell them what I feel about the whole issue. I spoke to the crowd that it is because of these rituals that I can ask my father to bring me a pack of sanitary pads. I can comfortably share with my male friends that I won’t be able to go to that cycling trip because I am on my periods rather than them thinking that I am the one cancelling all plans. I can ask my boss to allow me a half day because of my first day (thought period leaves have come up now). And that I don’t need to hide that sanitary pad inside a small pocket of my school bag so that no one else can see it. I left the podium telling Neha to never feel embarrassed of what she has gone through because it made me very strong and I want every girl to be that way.