A lot of blood has flown in this world – but none as powerful as the menstrual blood – for it has the power to fulfill and procreate, as well as the potential to anger and annoy.
My earliest post-puberty memories relate to the ‘terrifying Thursdays’ at school. Those were the ‘white uniform-physical training (PT) days’ – and more than the exacting exercise under the summer sun, the ‘statistically-probabilistic’ one Thursday per month was wasted worrying about what the unhindered movement of limbs might do to the ‘chastity’ of my white skirt. Even among warring teenage girls, the unspoken code of conduct ensured that one was promptly informed about any red flags whatsoever, albeit in hushed tones. I have spent a few such Thursdays looking for chalks, white fluid and even white-water paint to hide proof of my biological maturity.
But in the early years of the new millennium in a small Haryana town, I couldn’t have expected otherwise – even though my family occupied the opposite end of the liberal and ideological spectrum. My cognitive maturity since then has been one of awakening. I discarded the notions of menstrual secrecy and learnt that menstrual hygiene is what we need – and I have the enabling environment at my home to thank for this.
From the friend in college who longed to be a part of her family during ‘the days of the month’ to the relative whose husband surprised us with his hospitality (because, well, she was menstruating and thus it was his bounden duty to enter the pious kitchen lest it became impure) – all these interactions have only reaffirmed my conviction that menstruation needs to be brought on to the dining table, both literally and ideologically.
Today, as an independent woman well past her ‘quarter-life’, my concern is about the regularity of my cycle than about wasting precious time worrying about coffee stains, ink stains or even period stains. I do not believe that menstruation is the identity of womanhood. Neither do I believe that motherhood and fertility define a woman. But I do believe in bodily integrity – and what bothers me is how we, as a society, have set up and sustained artificial constructs of appropriate behaviour. That a process as natural as menstruation should subject young girls to the trauma of socially-acceptable norms is something that fails nature – and us as a society.
Of course, the issue of menstrual equity is multidimensional – there is unequal access to menstrual products, unwillingness to acknowledge the monthly cycle, bundled with ignorance and even unacceptability of menstrual hygiene products. These issues traverse the ‘female-male’, ‘young-old’, ‘rural-urban’, ‘illiterate-literate’, ‘uneducated-educated’ divides.
Our neighbour Nepal has taken the lead here in a certain way by criminalising chhaupadi (a menstrual taboo/tradition that isolates menstruating women). These require engagement and conversation – not black polybags and stealing glances. The recent suicide of a young girl in Tamil Nadu should once again serve as a reminder of how we have a long way to go. After all, 23% girls drop out of schools due to the lack of toilets – and as we are progressing towards enabling access to sanitation facilities in schools, let us not overlook the crucial psychological aspect to this that can do much more harm to an adolescent’s self-esteem. And here, even though ‘stain-shaming’ is just one aspect, it is a visible manifestation of our inhibitions to embrace this reality. It is one of the most obvious starting points for female dignity.
Let this powerful blood unite us all – across genders – to lift one unnecessary and illogical burden off the shoulders of many girls and women. Let’s start with the first responders – hug your mother, father, sister, brother, wife, husband and friend – and tell them, “Lets talk about menstruation because daag hote hain, aur daag acche hain (Let’s talk about menstruation because there will be stains, and stains are good)!”
Featured images used for representative purposes only.