This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Joyeeta Talukdar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

As A Little Girl In Assam, My First Lesson On Periods Came From Ma

More from Joyeeta Talukdar

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.

Menarche, or the beginning of periods during puberty, can be a confusing time for a girl. This is the story of how my mother explained it to me in simple terms.

It begins when I was in class 7. Many of my classmates already had begun their periods but I hadn’t.

In Assam, there is a tradition known as “Shanti biya” or “Tuloni biya” — a ‘Small Marriage’, where the girl is married to a banana tree after the girl has her first periods. I came to know of this function for first time on being invited to one of my school seniors’ Shanti biya. I was in class 3 then, and it did not bother me much. But, the thought that her parents were getting her married at such a small age made me both sad and angry.

After that I was invited to many of my class mates’ Tuloni Biya, basically from class five or six. In this marriage the rituals were the same as that of the traditional Assamese marriage. However, I could never find the husband, and was left confused every time.

But, whenever I asked them the question they didn’t say much and said, “As if you don’t know?” When I answered that I didn’t know, they would make fun of me and say I was acting. So finally I decided to talk with my mother about it.

This is one of the many times that I discussed things openly with my Ma, and she gave me the correct knowledge without hiding anything from me. I asked the same question to my mother, “Why are my friends getting married at such a young age? And if they are getting married then why don’t they go and stay with their husbands just like you? Where are their husbands?”

She held me close and said, “It’s not her marriage, darling. It’s her transformation from a girl to a lady that is being celebrated.”

I asked, “Girl to a lady? How?”

She remained silent for a few minutes and then slowly said, “We all girls have to pass through this. Let me try and explain this to you. Mmmmm, you know that we women have a special power of giving birth to babies, right?”

I nodded my head, “Yes.”

Then she continued, “But, for this, our body isn’t ready when we are girls. So to transform from a girl to a lady who has the capability of carrying the baby, our body transforms. The first step towards this transformation is we bleed.”

I was shocked, “Bleed? I mean bleed from where?”

She smiled and took me in her arms and said, “From your private part.”

“No, no, no, I don’t want to bleed,” I said. Then I asked worriedly, “Does it pain just like when it pains when we get cut?”

She smiled again and said, “Pain, yes it pains a bit, but then dear it’s the truth that every girl has to pass through it”.

“Even Moudi, and Tulidi (My cousin elder sisters) bleed, like bleed, bleed?”

Ma answered, “Yes, they too.”

Scratching my head I said abruptly, “Ohhh, then it’s OK!”

I was relieved a bit. It might be because now I learnt that my elder sisters also have the same phenomenon and somewhere it’s not unnatural or out of the world something, it’s natural.

But, questions always pop up in the small, curious, rapidly growing mind. So, I asked, “When will it happen? And shall it remain for the rest of my life, like will I bleed always for rest of my life?”

Ma smiled and answered, “It shall occur when your body is ready for it. You will know, and no worries, Ma will teach you everything. And no, you don’t bleed throughout your life. It occurs for about four to five days in a month and then you are all right.”

This got me more relieved and I said, “But what is this Shanti Biya all about?”

Ma said, “This is a ritual dear, that celebrates a girl’s menarche and signifies the entry of her into womanhood. The main purpose of these rituals is to educate the girl about the changes her body is or will be going through. In Hindi it’s known as ‘Ritusuddhi’. In Assam here we call it Shanti Biya or Tuloni Biya.”

“The rituals,” she continued, “basically take place for seven days where the girl is made to learn how to keep herself properly hygienic and clean during this period. All the ingredients used during the rituals are hygienic and have very good health benefits. Like, say, haldi (turmeric) which is applied during bathing the girl, is a natural antibiotic.”

“She is given healthy food, basically loads of fruits to eat. During this time the water and iron content of the body decreases because of continuous bleeding. Her body goes through drastic hormonal changes so it is better that high protein intake like red meat is eliminated for the first few months during menstruation. The requirement of micro nutrients in one’s body at that time increases a lot. Moreover, since the girl is not used to these changes, it’s important to educate her. So these rituals were made to educate her about the precautions to take and hygiene to be maintained. That is why, darling, this Shanti Biya takes place to educate the girl about the changes in her body and how to deal with them monthly and also the feast is for celebrating her entry in womanhood.”

Achaa, mmmm, OK!” I nodded.

“But, see during this time the girl is emotionally very much stressed so one should never make fun of her. During the periods she needs to be pampered and given utmost comfort not making her feel awkward or guilty about herself. So now that you know what this Shanti Biya is all about, never make fun of a girl going through this. Because you should know that what she is passing through today you will pass through the same phase one day or other. Got it? Joyee?”

I gave my most cunning smile and said, “OK. But then do I get a bigger bowl of payash for behaving well?”

Ma placed my face in between her soft palms and kissed me saying, “Yes, of course my darling but then you promise me never to disrespect a girl having periods and shall try to comfort her in every way possible.”

I kissed Ma back on her cheeks and said, “Yes, Ma, I promise, pakka, God Promise!”

Ma said, “Then toh you get a bowl of payash but only if you give me to eat too from your bowl.”

Ma and I started laughing heartily.

Although years have passed by and I have learnt more about this phenomenon scientifically, but still today, this simple and short lesson from Ma is fresh in my subconscious mind. Even today, whenever I learn that my colleague has her periods I try to be conscious not to hurt her with my words, and see to it that no one makes fun of her, and I check if she feels any discomfort during this period.

This was my first lesson on Menarche where I learnt the scientific reality of it and even got lessons on respecting it. Education on menstruation is important. For both sexes male or female. The things which are excluded, or talked of in a hush hush way often becomes more interesting to children. Nothing should be hidden, neither should it be presented in a vulgar or creepy way. It should be presented in a beautiful way with truth, and only that truth that is age appropriate. Once you know the reason behind every cause then it’s easier to react to it in the right way.

This write-up was first published on Women’s Web.

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.

Tweet To HRD Minister Sign the petition

You must be to comment.
  1. Nathan Luise

    Great writing style

More from Joyeeta Talukdar

Similar Posts

By Paribha Vashist

By Naureen Shafiq

By Nazariya LGBT

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

  • “Every 15 Minutes, A Crime Is Committed Against A Dalit Person” Will We Find A ‘Cure’ For Caste-Based Violence? Start writing
  • The Darker Side Of The System: What Do You Think Of Police Brutality In India? Start writing
  • What Is One Movie Or Tv Show That You Can’t Stop Thinking About? Start writing
  • How Do We Begin Dismantling Locker Rooms That Carry On The Old Tradition Of Gendered Abuse? Start writing
  • What Lessons Have You Learnt During This Lockdown. Start writing

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below