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‘If A Woman’s Hymen Tears, Her Head Will Be Shaved’: Manusmriti And The Hindu Woman

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The caste system in India is a fourfold division of people based on their birth, and is largely followed by people who follow the Hindu way of life. The four distinct groups of caste are Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. The Shudras are further divided into Ati-Shudra. Those who exist outside this fourfold division are known as Dalits.

The Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas are categorized under the ‘pure caste’ group and are regarded as ‘upper caste’ whereas the Shudras and the Ati Shudras are considered to be a ‘low caste’ group and thus are deemed ‘polluted’. According to ancient scriptures, the low caste people have to serve the high caste people. Those existing outside of caste are commonly referred to as the ‘untouchables’.

When we read about Caste System, we assume that all upper caste people enjoyed the superior status and all lower caste men and women were severely victimized. Though the latter is true, the fact is, not all upper caste people enjoyed equality and superiority. It won’t be unjust if we simply mention that upper caste ‘men’ enjoyed all liberties.

The caste distinction doesn’t give any special privileges to the upper caste women. Though she has a somewhat higher authority over men and women of the lower caste groups, within her community and household she is dominated and discriminated against by men of her own caste. This article will focus on the upper caste woman and the discrimination that she faces.

When we talk of upper caste women, we cannot help but mention Sita and Panchali, the heroines of the Hindu epics ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’ respectively. Both the epics show fierce wars fought in the name of the injustice meted out to these two women. The Ramayana was Lord Rama’s fight against the Lanka King Ravana who had abducted his wife Sita. The entire theme seems so engrossing that we tend to ignore the fact that the same Lord Rama disowned Sita after winning her back, because her ‘purity’ was in question. Also, Rama and Lakshmana conveniently insulted Shurpnakha who was the sister of Ravana and cut her nose off, because she evidently showed her interest in courting Lakshmana, who was the brother of Rama. Thus, portraying that a woman who vocalizes her desires is witchy.

In Mahabharata, the kings could perform polygamy ‘legally’, but polyandry was a sin. So when Draupadi was married off to five men, the men were not regarded as being polluted, but she was considered sinful and unholy. The Mahabharata war was fought to provide justice to Draupadi (also known as Panchali) the wife of the Pandavas, who was insulted by the Kauravas when an attempt was conducted by the Kaurava Prince Dushashana to disrobe her in a public gathering. The Mahabharata War was to win back her ‘lost’ status and more so the ‘lost’ status of her husbands. But what one must also consider is that she would not have been insulted in a public gathering in the first place if her husband, Yudhisthira, didn’t trade her off in a game of dice, as if she were some object.

Objectification of women is quite common. The most common example of a woman being considered as an object is the practice of ‘kanyadaan’ in Hindu marriages. Fathers ‘donate’ their daughter away, as if she is just an object that he owns. Be it during the Mahabharata or now, women were and still are looked at as a man’s ‘property’ that could be taken or given away according to the man’s whims and fancies. The main theme of both the epics is to depict how good wins over evil and how women are to be respected, but the respect that they talk about is very patriarchal in nature.

Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The Hindu way of life is governed by the norms mentioned in the four Vedas (Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva), the Dharmasastras, the Arthasastra, and the Manusmriti. These are ancient Sanskrit texts that lay down rules for people and how should they behave within their defined caste group. Hence, the discrimination of the upper caste woman within her household wasn’t necessarily because her gender was regarded as inferior by the male members. It was mostly men acting according to the writings sanctioned by these ancient scriptures and texts.

The discrimination starts with the fact that only Brahmin men could read the Vedas and nobody else. Very often people criticize and say that men of other castes should be allowed to read the Vedas too, and that the Brahmins are privileged. But the truth is only the Brahmin men are privileged, not even the Brahmin woman, as even she is not allowed to read the ancient texts. Even today we don’t even have a single woman priestess in any of the Shakti Peeths in India, even though all these temples are dedicated to Goddess Durga.

The privileges that an upper caste woman enjoys are also the ones that would at the end benefit her husband or the male members of her family. For instance, she being regarded as the ideal mother or ideal wife and thus gaining respect for it, is society’s way of letting her remain within the house and perform her duties as a mother or a wife or a daughter-in-law, saving the men the economic costs of keeping a nanny, a cleaner, a washerwoman, etc. or from doing those tasks themselves.

Brahmins are regarded as the ‘twice-born caste’, which is seen as a fortunate birth. But the ‘twice-born’ system is only applicable to the Brahmin men, who are given an even higher status by a ceremony known as the ‘Upanayan’ ceremony, wherein they are regarded almost next to God. The Brahmin women don’t enjoy a high status even though they’re born in the same ‘twice-born caste’. Their decisions hardly matter to the family.

One characteristic that was common in olden times is that they were regarded inferior to their husbands, who on the other hand, are termed as ‘Parmeshwaras’ or ‘Gods’. The women have to touch their feet and perform all activities that please the husband. Touching the feet of the husband during the marriage ceremony is still prevalent among many upper caste families. These rules are preached by Brahmin saints and sages and are considered the woman’s ‘Dharma’ or ‘Duty’!

When we talk about ancient Hindu scriptures, we cannot do away with the existence of the Manusmriti which is said to have been written by Manu (the first man on earth or progenitor of humanity). As mentioned above, the men did what was sanctioned by religious texts and most of their doings were prescribed in the Manusmriti (a text burnt down in several feminist movements). The Manusmriti describes several rules for women. For instance, it forces women to be dependent on their fathers, husbands, or sons, forever. Moreover, the norms for upper caste widows are very stringent. They can either perform Sati (burn themselves at the pyre of their husband) or marry the husband’s younger brother or live a life of austerity. Anything beyond this is not acceptable.

An instance could be my own house where my grandmother lives a life of austerity ever since my grandfather expired. Women are expected to stay at home and serve the husband and his family. When a girl is born, she is regarded as ‘Paraaya Dhan’(someone else’s property) by her own parents. This is because she is married off and then has to live with the husband and his family forever. ‘Property’ is the word used for her. Such is the status attributed to an upper caste woman but it’s the same with women across all caste groups.

Then there are highly austere rules for menstruating women as well. Brahmin women who menstruate are kept away from the kitchen and are made to sleep on the ground and aren’t allowed to enter the temple. Some argue that these rules exist so that the woman could rest, but the rules are highly biased and strict in nature. Even I am not allowed to visit temples or enter my grandmother’s kitchen during the first three days of menstruation. An even more embarrassing moment was when I hit puberty for the first time and guests were invited, and it was publicly announced that I had become a ‘woman’ irrespective of the fact that I was only 13.

The Manusmriti, commonly termed as Manav Dharam Shastra, is the earliest metrical work on Brahminical Dharma in Hinduism. According to Hindu mythology, the Manusmriti is the word of Brahma, and it is classified as the most authoritative statement on Dharma. The scripture consists of 2690 verses, divided into 12 chapters. Hindu apologists consider the Manusmriti as the divine code of conduct and, accordingly, the status of women as depicted in the text has been interpreted as Hindu divine law. fWhile defending Manusmriti as divine code of conduct for all including women, apologists often quote the verse: “yatr naryasto pojyantay, ramantay tatr devta (where women are provided place of honor, gods are pleased and reside there in that household)”, but they deliberately forget all those verses that are full of prejudice, hatred and discriminating against women and the lower caste people. Some of the most celebrated derogatory comments about women in the Manusmriti are-

  • Brahmin men can marry Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and even Shudra women but Shudra men can marry only Shudra women.
  • Although Brahmin, Kshatriya, and Vaishya men have been allowed inter-caste marriages, even in distress they should not marry Shudra women.
  • When twice-born [dwij=Brahmin, Kshatriya, and Vaishya] men in their folly marry low caste Shudra women, they are responsible for the degradation of their whole family. Accordingly, their children adopt all the demerits of the Shudra caste.
  • Women, true to their class character, are capable of leading astray men in this world, not only a fool but even a learned and wise man. Both become slaves of desire.
  • Wise men should not marry women who do not have a brother and whose parents are not socially well known.
  • Wise men should marry only women who are free from bodily defects, with beautiful names, grace/gait like an elephant, moderate hair on the head and body, soft limbs, and small teeth.
  • Food offered and served to a Brahmin after the Shradh ritual should not be seen by a ‘chandal’, a pig, a cock, a dog, and menstruating women.
  • A Brahmin, the true defender of his class, should not have his meals in the company of his wife and even avoid looking at her. Furthermore, he should not look towards her when she is having her meals or when she sneezes/yawns.
  • A Brahmin in order to preserve his energy and intellect must not look at women who apply collyrium to her eyes, one who is massaging her nude body or one who is delivering a child.
  • One should not accept meals from a woman who has extra-marital relations, nor from a family exclusively dominated/managed by women or a family whose 10 days of impurity because of death have not passed.
  • A female child, young woman or old woman is not supposed to work independently even at her place of residence.
  • Girls are supposed to be in the custody of their father when they are children, women must be under the custody of their husband when married and under the custody of her son as widows. In no circumstances is she allowed to assert herself independently.
  • Men may be lacking virtue, be sexual perverts, immoral and devoid of any good qualities, and yet women must constantly worship and serve their husbands.
  • Women have no divine right to perform any religious ritual, nor make vows or observe a fast. Her only duty is to obey and please her husband and she will for that reason alone be exalted in heaven.
  • At her pleasure [after the death of her husband], let her emaciate her body by living only on pure flowers, roots of vegetables and fruits. She must not even mention the name of any other man after her husband has died.
  • In case a woman tears the membrane (hymen) of her Vagina, she shall instantly have her head shaved or two fingers cut off and made to ride on Donkey.
  • In case women enjoy sex with a man from a higher caste, the act is not punishable. But on the contrary, if women enjoy sex with lower caste men, she is to be punished and kept in isolation.
  • It is the duty of all husbands to exert total control over their wives. Even physically weak husbands must strive to control their wives.
  • Consuming liquor, association with wicked persons, separation from her husband, rambling around, sleeping for unreasonable hours and dwelling – are six demerits of women.
  • While performing ‘namkarm’ and ‘jatkarm’, Vedic mantras are not to be recited by women, because women are lacking in strength and knowledge of Vedic texts. Women are impure and represent falsehood.
  • On failure to produce offspring with her husband, she may obtain offspring by cohabitation with her brother-in-law [devar] or with some other relative [sapinda] on her in-law’s side.
  • A barren wife may be superseded in the 8th year; she whose children die may be superseded in the 10th year and she who bears only daughters may be superseded in the 11th year, but she who is quarrelsome may be superseded without delay.
  • In the case of any problem in performing religious rites, males between the age of 24 and 30 should marry a female between the age of 8 and 12.

These are just a few of the norms mentioned about women in the Manusmriti. These itself show how a woman belonging to the upper caste group is also subjected to discrimination just like the lower caste men or women. Though such strict rules are not followed anymore in most parts of the country yet they are still present in some parts. It is known how a few temples do not allow the entry of lower caste people. But there are temples, for example, the Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, where women are protesting against the temple’s order that states women cannot enter the temple.

Rama Lakshmi writes in the book ‘Caste in Life’, how she was expected to behave properly and not speak against men and perform rituals because she was born into a Tamil Brahmin family. Different authors in the book write about their relationship with caste and how it has been a part of their lives especially their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters. Because it is up to the woman to keep the family honour, because she is regarded as the family’s priced property that nobody should touch or make impure.

Belonging to a high or low caste has no significant difference for women, because overall women are mostly discriminated against. In reality, lower caste people and women, irrespective of their caste, are similar in the eyes of most high-caste men.

The birth of a girl child is still considered sinful. A very close friend of mine belongs to a Brahmin family from Darbangha, Bihar. On the birth of her younger sister, her grandmother refused to accept the child because she was considered to be the second unlucky birth in the family, after my friend. It is among the higher caste groups that dowry killing, female feticide, and infanticide are common norms. Inter-caste marriage is still a crime for women and in some states, she is killed in the name of honour killing if she dares to love or marry a lower caste man.

It is also seen that rules became stringent for women mostly during the nineteenth century, when India was colonized. Partha Chatterjee’s essay on ‘The Nationalist Resolution of the Women’s Question’ talks about how the concept of ‘Bhadramahila’ (respectable women) emerged. Women who attained cultural refinement through formal education were considered respectable. Otherwise, they were deemed westernized and seen as uncultured. Though being educated was a milestone step for women, not all women enjoyed the right to education, especially the ones belonging to the lower classes.

In her essay ‘Whatever Happened to the Vedic Dasi?’ Uma Chakravarti writes about Kailashbhashini Devi, an educated woman, who had written about how most pitiable conditions of women caused by ‘purdah’ (female seclusion), child marriage, kulin polygamy, enforced widowhood were “unknown in ancient times”. According to her, women in those times acquired learning before marriage, and continued learning even afterwards without the superstitious fear of widowhood.

Independence for women belonging to the higher castes was very limited. Sarala Debi, who was born in the ‘privileged’ Tagore family, took up an appointment in a girl’s school in Mysore to earn her own living independently. A young man stole into her room one night and she had to return back to her home only to be taunted and told that there was no need for a woman belonging to a family like hers to go off to distant lands to seek employment. After the incident, Sarala said, “The whim to work is satisfied, but not the whim for independence.” Sarala Debi went ahead to become a ‘hero’ in the nationalist movement and her contribution is immense, yet not much was known about her life post marriage and she is said to have lived up to the conventional role of a wife.

It wouldn’t be wrong to state that since ancient times a woman is seen as a ‘child-bearing and rearing machine’. During the epics, or the ancient Vedic period, or the nationalist movement and even today, women have faced severe discrimination and upper caste women are not behind in suffering these injustices and inequality. She might be considered above Dalit men, but, as shown by Nivedita Menon in her book, “Seeing Like A Feminist”, she would experience her relative powerlessness as a woman if faced by a man in a position to attack her sexually, regardless of his caste or class; or when she compares her life choices and autonomy with those of a man of her class.


Works Cited-

Babu, D. Shyam, Khare, Ravindra S., eds. Caste in Life: Experiencing Inequalities, 2011. Print.
Sangari and Sudesh Vaid. Rutgers University Press, 1990, 80-105, Print.
Sangari and Sudesh Vaid. Rutgers University Press, 1990, 306-331, Print.
Internet Sacred Text Archive, Web. 25 Jan. 2016
You must be to comment.
  1. Hari Prasad

    A brilliant write up ?

  2. Abhijeet Satsangi

    If the “bullshits” mentioned above in the name of religious or moral conduct according to Some Great!!!!! Manu and his genius work “Manusmriti”.It’s worst than garbage and should be globally discarded as a senseless and illogical work ..
    And The concept of Caste better say “Varna” was initially based on the basis of Profession and not birth..Neither this varna system was made to privilege or superiorize someone but to mark the basic difference among humans, to respect their individuality.
    Substantially Every human is the manifestation of the same divinity and physically also they all are made up of same elements..
    By birth none comes with any signs to be more pure or privileged than others..
    So inequality based on merely birth is horribly stupendous and raises a question mark on human rationale!!!!

    1. Balasubramaniam Murugesu

      Very well written and articulated.

  3. ravendra singh

    On basis of one corrupted manusmriti you wrote one sided article which is not even main scripture , amazing

    Why haven’t you take references from 4 vedas , 108 upnishads , mahabharat , 18 Puran , Ramayan why ???

    Even in manusmriti you highligh only part that suited your agenda
    Why haven’t you told that , manusmriti also tells ti Worship women , give them properly rights , give them right to choose husband , to remarry many other ????

    “A woman can choose her own husband after attaining maturity. If her parents are unable to choose a deserving groom, she can herself choose her husband.” (Manu Smriti IX 90 – 91)

    9.72-9.81 allow the man or the woman to get out of a fraudulent marriage or an abusive marriage, and remarry; the text also provides legal means for a woman to remarry when her husband has been missing or has abandoned her.

    “women must be honored and adorned”, and “where women are revered, there the gods rejoice; but where they are not, no sacred rite bears any fruit3:55-3:56

    leave texts , hinduism is only which worship women in form of knowledge (Saraswati) , prosperity (Lakshmi) , valour (Kali , furga)

    Why haven’t you write about ancient hindu women gurus????
    Like Maitreyi, Gārgī, Lopāmudrā, Haimavatī Uma and Ubhaya Bharati who debate great guru ADI Shankaracharya

    I have never read such baised article in my whole life

  4. Rupesh Raut

    What you had written it’s completely biased and without any basic knowledge of Manusmriti. You had just keep writing with out giving any actual references with hymns of Manusmriti. You must had read the corrupt version of Manusmriti which actually uses Anti Hindu elements just for burning it publically. You are one of them too. So spare some time…just little time to read and understand actual “Manusmriti”. First educate yourself then preach others….Jay Hind

  5. Prasoon Sharma

    First off all its totally biased as well on the base of your half knowledge….
    Manusmriti also tells tht one who is bramhan can become sudra or anyone of all remaining 3 category…. And it is for all of thm… According to manusmriti its all based on karma of the person… Nd the cast system was aggressively created by British to separate ppl on this basis…
    Bcz in many books of those British authors they mansioned about it tht at tht Time most of the Indians were educated… Nd probably u hvnt heard about Taxsilla nd all…
    Nd their is one more duryodhan was insulted by panchali ,saying “andhe ka beta andha hi hoga” . . For which he revenge… As he was antagonist character… Nd there r many more… So go recheck your sources nd thn write something…

  6. Pawan Kumar

    Her whole article is self contradictory
    At one place she writes Manusmriti is believed to be written by Manu at the other place, she writes it’s words from Brahma. She doesn’t even know that Smritis were ancient law books written by Humans Manu was a Human, no where he has been referred to as God. There were other Smritis also, Narad Smrita, Parashar Smriti & Yajnvalkya Smriti. She says her puberty was declared, Goswami is north indian surname, whereas this is a South Indian tradition.
    She has deliberately mentioned corrupted Manusmriti which was rewritten by Britishers to show Hindus in inferior light.
    Yudhisthira was criticised in Mahabharata for putting her on stake whereas she writes as if the epic eulogizes this act .
    In a nutshell, this article is a shit article.

  7. Setu Srivatsa

    Women In Sanatana Dharma
    Women in the Mahābhārata (13-81-1 — 12)
    Bhishma said, Respect, kind treatment, and everything else that is agreeable, should all be given unto the maiden whose hand is taken in marriage.
    Her father and brothers and father-in-law and husband’s brothers should show her every respect and adorn her with ornaments, if they be desirous of reaping benefits, for such conduct on their part always leads to considerable happiness and advantage.
    If the wife does not like her husband or fails to gladden him, from such dislike and absence of joy, the husband can never have issue for increasing his clan.
    Women, O king, should always be worshiped and treated with affection. There where women are treated with respect, the very deities are said to be filled with joy.
    There where women are not worshiped, all acts become fruitless. If the women of a family, in consequence of the treatment they receive, grieve and shed tears, that family soon becomes extinct.
    Those houses that are cursed by women meet with destruction and ruin as if scorched by some Atharvan rite. Such houses lose their splendour. Their growth and prosperity cease. O king,
    Manu, on the eve of his departure for Heaven, made over women to the care and protection of men, saying that they are weak, that they fall an easy prey to the seductive wiles of men[1], disposed to accept the love that is offered them, and devoted to truth.
    There are others among them that are full of malice, covetous of honours, fierce in disposition, unlovable, and impervious to reason. Women, however, deserve to be honoured, so O men, show them honour.
    The righteousness (Dharma) of men depends upon women. All pleasures and enjoyments also completely depend upon them. So serve them and worship them, bend your wills before them.
    The begetting of offspring, the nursing of children already born, and the accomplishment of all acts necessary for the needs of society, all these are dependent upon women.
    By honouring women, you are sure to attain success in all your projects. In this connection a princess of the house of Janaka the ruler of the Videhas, sang a verse.
    It is this: “Women have no sacrifices ordained for them. There are no Sraddhas which they are called upon to perform. They are not required to observe any fasts. To perform their duty towards their husbands and in-laws is their only obligation. Through the discharge of that duty they succeed in conquering heaven”.
    In childhood, the father protects her. The husband protects her in youth. When she becomes old, her sons, protect her. At no period of her life should a woman be left alone.
    Women are goddesses of prosperity. The person that desires affluence should honour them. By cherishing women, O Bharata, one cherishes the goddess of prosperity herself.
    Women in the Puranas
    Glory of the Mother
    O Brahmin, he who lives to see his mother so poor and wretched lives in vain. He who full of regard for his mother protects her with devotion, gets fully rewarded in this world and the next. (Nrsimha P. 13:45
    In this world and the next, they are the best of people worthy of honour and adoration who obey their mothers. Nrsimha P. 13:46
    The highest Dharma is maintenance of the mother (Nrsimha P. 13:63)
    Status of Lakshmi
    The inconceivable energy of the Godhead can be conceived as twofold – with a female form and with a male form. The two should not be regarded as separate entities, O Lord of Birds. Garuḍa Purāṇa 3.3.16
    If the Lord did not have a female aspect, O Lord of birds, how could women be considered as His reflections. Garuḍa Purāṇa 3.3.17
    Hence the female is inseparable from the male form. These two forms constitute the very nature of the Lord. This should not be taken otherwise there is no neutrality in the Lord. Garuḍa Purāṇa 3.3.18
    The neutral form is alien to His nature. It is not present in Hari, O Lord of Birds. Know that women are the reflected form of Hari Garuḍa Purāṇa 3.3.19
    Women in Pancharatra
    A man of piety free from sin, consistently adhering to the precepts of the sacred scriptures, performs those deeds that are not condemned by women and that please them. Lakshmi Tantra 27.47
    If he observes an excellent man and an excellent woman, he should worship (in them) the divine couple, thinking of me (Lakshmi) and without relinquishing thought of their separably coupled existence. Lakshmi Tantra 27.42
    A yogin (dharma practitioner) should never abuse a woman, either in deed, speech or thought. Wherever I am the realities are, wherever I am the gods too are.
    Wherever I exist , merits too exist, wherever I exist Krsna too exists.
    I am the womanhood pervading the entire universe and inherent in all women. He who abuses women, abuses lakshmi herself, he who abuses lakshmi abuses the entire three worlds.
    He who bears ill-will against any woman, is ill-disposed towards Laksmi herself. He who is ill-disposed towards Lakshmi is ill-disposed towards the entire universe.
    He whose heart is gladdened by the sight of women – like moonlight, and who never entertains evil thoughts about them, he is most dear to me.
    Just as there is no sin whatsoever in Narayana or myself , O Indra, Neither in a cow, a brahmin nor a scholar of Vedanta.
    In the same manner no evil whatsoever exists in women O Indra. Just as the Ganga and Sarasvati (rivers) are free of impurity & sin. As also the Aruna river, so too are all women revered as being sinless.
    The fact that I, the Mother of the three Worlds, am the basis of womanhood, makes my power manifest in women. Thus a woman is the mother of the three worlds, a goddess full of abundance.
    Knowing women as my direct manifestation, how can a yogi refrain from revering them? One should never hurt women, and should never even think of wronging women.
    A yogin who wishes to attain the fulfillment of yoga, should always act to please women. He should regard all women as mothers, as goddesses as my very self.
    Lakshmī Tantra Chap 43. 62 — 72
    Equality with men
    Yea many a woman is more steady and better than the man who turns away from the Gods, and serves not. She who assists the weak and the worn, the person who thirsts and is in want; she sets her mind upon the gods. Rig Veda 5;61;6— 8:
    Sayana Comments — The wife and the husband being equal halves of one substance are equal in every respect, both should join and take equal part in all work – religious or secular.
    Purity of Women
    The Moon god has blessed women with purity; the Gandharva has blessed them with sweet speech. Fire is always pure and women are always pure. (G.P.95;19 Yajñavalkya 3:19)
    The husband should be loyal to his wife. Since women are to be well protected the husband, his brothers, father, mother or kinsmen should honour her with ornaments, clothing and food. (G.P. 95:27 Yajñavalkya 3:27)
    Only the father may be considered as fallen but never the mother. (Narada Purana 14:18)
    A woman is not defiled by a lover, (na stri dusyati jarena) nor a Brahmin by Vedic rites, nor water by urine and faeces nor fire by consuming [impure substances]. 1. (Vasistha 28:1)
    Whether she has strayed on her own or been expelled, or have suffered rape, or have fallen into the hands of robber, a woman must not be abandoned; to forsake her is not prescribed [by the sacred law]. Let him [her husband] wait until the time of her menstruation, by her temporary impurity she becomes pure. (2-3 Vasistha 28:1-3)
    Women are enjoyed first by the gods: the Moon, Gandharva and Agni and only after they go to men in accordance with the law. Therefore they cannot ever be defiled. Vasiṣṭha 28:5
    Soma granted them purity, Gandharva a sweet voice, Fire the capacity to eat anything; women there are free from all taints. (Baudhayana 2:45 Vasiṣṭha 28:6)
    Menstruation
    Women [posses] an unequalled means of purification; they never become entirely tainted. For month by month their temporary uncleanliness removes their sins. (Vasistha 28:4, Baudhāyana 2:4:4)
    Mahanirvana tantra
    The householder should never punish his wife, but should cherish her like a mother M.N.T 8:39
    By riches, clothes, love, respect and pleasing words should one’s wife be satisfied. The husband should never do anything displeasing to her. M.N.T. 8:42
    In the same manner (as a son) a daughter should be cherished and educated with great care, and then given away with money and jewels to a wise husband. M.N.T. 8:47
    O Kuleshani, a wife should not be burnt with her dead husband. Every woman is your image – you reside concealed in the forms of all women in this world. That woman who, in delusion ascends her husband’s funeral pyre shall go to hell. M.N.T. 10:79-80
    A man who rapes a woman, even if she be the wife of an outcaste (candala) should be punished with death and should never be pardoned M.N.T. 11:45
    The man who uses offensive language towards a woman, who sees the private parts of a woman who is not his wife, and laughs derisively at her, should fast for two days to purify himself. M.N.T. 11;49
    If a man speaks rudely to his wife he must fast for one day, if he beats her he must go without food for three days, and if he cause bloodshed then he must fast for seven days. M.N.T. 11:64

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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