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‘It Looked Like A Crime Scene From Saw 3’: Period Story Of A ’90s Girl

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WASH logoEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #NoMoreLimits, a campaign by WASH United and Youth Ki Awaaz to break the silence on menstrual hygiene. If you'd like to become a menstrual hygiene champion, share your story on any one of these 5 themes here.

OK homies, so Menstrual Hygiene Day is coming soon (May 28) and there are a lot of write-ups and awareness campaigns going on. Basically, this day is celebrated to break taboos surrounding menstruation, raise awareness on the importance of good menstrual hygiene management worldwide. You can follow these hashtags to stay on top of things.

#NoMoreLimits      

I wanted to share a chapter about menstruation from my book Third World Woman: Weird AF Tales of An Accidental Feminist. 

In chapter 3 of this book, I wanted to write about my period story. Not about the first time I had it but one where I knew what a period was but wasn’t mature enough to understand, let alone deal with, the shame attached to it.

It has my observations and my tale of horror. I wanted to share it on the occasion of World Menstrual Hygiene Day, so here it is:

It was the worst day of my childhood. The school toilet was dark and reeked vigorously of phenyl – a cleaning fluid that would have been used to rinse the waste of the million students that used the toilet previously. Think I’m exaggerating for dramatic effect? This was an Indian school, where each class had about 7 sections with 40 students each. I’m no mathematician, but I’m pretty sure I’m not too far off.

I sat down in the last stall of the large communal washroom, and wondered what had I done? Why was God punishing me? Why was this happening to me?

My abdomen hurt like a tractor had gone wild in my uterus, or Nicki Minaj was rehearsing her Anaconda dance in my fallopian tubes. Two hours had passed. I could see the sunlight scatter on the floor through the high but tiny window. I could see my blurred reflection, and I hated my face. It was time to reflect. I saw the lady janitor drop by few times, but I dared not ask for help. I felt too ashamed, and as a result, I hid every time.

My school dress was stained with blood thanks to a new phenomenon in my life: menstruation. There were changes all around and inside of me, and I had not been taught to prepare for these transformations. On the inside, it looked like a crime scene from Saw 3.

Although I had an elder sister, we never really talked about this stuff openly. One day when out of the blue (or red, if you prefer a more visceral analogy), I began menstruating and life just crashed around me. I have a blurred memory of what happened and how I dealt with it, but what I remember perfectly is the shame attached to the experience.

We were an educated family and pretty modern, but that didn’t stretch to open discussions about puberty. In fact, I was told not to pray, not to touch certain things, and that since I was now impure, I should wear long and dark clothes. Since I was really a child, I could not handle walking around normally, or sleep in those moon-white fragrant linens as you see on advertisements.

Tampons still do not exist in India, so the ‘go-to’ feminine hygiene product a maxi pad the size of Barbie’s mattress that could soak up the next Tsunami.

It still failed its mission, somehow; and this mission failure would occur mostly during school time when there were these nasty, sticky creatures called ‘boys’ lurking around.

This was the doomsday scenario for me. I had a stained dress, and I couldn’t leave the toilet or ask anybody for help. Apparently, the child that I was felt too ashamed to talk about my problem with anyone. It was about my honour, after all. I rather would have died than shared my indignity. I cried for a while and fought with God for making me a girl. Then my attention drifted off to the reflection of my face on the floor; the pinkish ugly pimple on my cheek, wondering why it always appeared during this time of the month. That pimple thought was in turn interrupted by some unpleasant, and rather frightening, noises coming from the nearby toilet stall.

Three hours passed, and finally, the bell of hope rang. The last class ended and children popped out of the school building like slaves freed from the ship of Spartacus. Finally, I snuck out of the toilet and ran to my class through the empty corridors, still reeking of sweat. I ran away, hung my school bag as low on my back as I could manage, and somehow reached home sitting on a cycle rickshaw.

You see, I was absolutely unaware of what menstruation was before it happened with me like some kind of awful accident. I have no idea why, but my mom never discussed it. When I ask now, her straightforward answer is that “children must not know about grown-up things.” I often find myself wondering why such a grown up thing happens to children if this is the case.

Menstruation is biological, but periods are social.

Menstruation is a perfectly healthy bodily function that is discussed in the Biology class, while periods are those hidden, shameful curses that fall upon us once a month.

Menstruation is good; the world needs menstruating girls to create the next generation of humans, so we will have more wars and cars. But periods? Periods are bad. An ugly, dirty part of womanhood, that needs to be confined to the four walls of a hygienically questionable school toilet.

A menstruating woman can bring a human to life, while a woman on her period is supposed to stay away from praying, the kitchen and even their husband because she is filthy. In Nepal, menstruating women are sent to exile in huts where sometimes they even die. Google it.

If you need to buy female hygiene products, aka sanitary napkins (tampons are unheard of) in India, the conversation goes something like this.

Girl enters a pharmacy.
Girl looks to the right, looks to left, and slowly passes a small piece of paper to the clerk.
The guy slyly looks at the paper and gives a secret look back. This is like a James Bond movie!

He then goes at the back of his shop and reaches for a packet of Whisper sanitary pads.
Wraps in a newspaper, then another newspaper then a black plastic bag, then a newspaper, then another plastic bag.
Clerk returns slyly gives the bulky package to girl, “your package is ready.”
20 rupees, please!
Girl leaves, hoping that nobody saw her transaction.
Clerk vigorously washes his hands.

On Tampons

I consider tampons to be the greatest invention of all time in the female hygiene department. However, India is far from accepting tampon as a regular commercial product. The first time my mom and sister saw a tampon, they weren’t as excited as I was. Not only did they fear that my hymen would break and my virginity would be destroyed, erasing my worth in the Indian society as a woman, but also that inserting a tampon could provide me with sexual pleasure. Of course, that is not what a woman’s vagina is for. It exists only to please our husbands.

I will discuss the myth of virginity at length in the next chapter but for now, if like my mom and sister you don’t already know, there is no such thing as ‘virginity’, and inserting a tampon certainly isn’t sexual pleasure. The best part about a tampon is that it feels like nothing. Which I’m sure some women would also claim about their husbands, but that’s not for me to say.

When I look back and analyze my menstruation history, I find nothing but shame and disgust. I wish I never had to go through those horrible, embarrassing years of feeling shameful about a very natural and healthy bodily function that took place within me.

Aditi Gupta is a young woman who introduced Menstrupedia to India not too long ago. Not only are women now being told about what menstruation is, but Aditi is informing boys about the process and challenging the social stigma of shame.

Am I jealous of this generation? Heck yes.

Where were these cool, new, exciting period comics and fun wisdom when I was locked inside that stinky toilet for 4 hours waiting for the school day to end?

PS. Out of curiosity, I ordered a silicon moon cup from China recently to advance my use of feminine hygiene products. I don’t think I’ll be giving it a shot anytime soon, simply because I’m not a fan of cleaning up after a crime scene. Tampons are easier to dispose of, so I’m going to continue with them for now but considering their carbon footprint, I am not sure how long I’d continue.

– The Puberty Blues (and Reds, and Yellows, and Pinks…), Chapter 3, Third World Woman

Let's ensure that no girl is limited by something as natural and normal as her period by making menstrual hygiene education compulsory in schools.

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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

  • Mobilising young people between the age of 18-35 to become ‘Eco-Period Champions’ by making the switch to a sustainable menstrual alternative and becoming advocates for the project
  • All existing and upcoming public institutions (pink toilets, washrooms, schools, colleges, government offices, government buildings) across East Delhi to have affordable provisions for sustainable menstrual product options

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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