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What My Baba Taught Me About Periods One Durga Puja

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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.

When you get firm support, it always becomes easier to fight against societal taboos. This is one such incident where my baba’s (father’s) support helped me fight such taboos with positivity during my periods and taught me to always question societal rituals which I didn’t want to obediently follow without proper reasoning.

Having your periods on a festival day is considered a horrible fate in many orthodox families. As a young girl, I learnt from my dad that it is okay to question rituals that don’t make sense. Every daughter’s hero is her dad, and so is my baba to me.

It is Durga Puja. The flowers are blooming everywhere, bringing the fragrance of the goddess into our lives with the sound of her anklets. The birds are singing agamani sangeet (songs of arrival). They were chirping as if saying, “She has arrived at your doorstep. Open your doors for her.

These are, I guess, the feelings of every Bengali during this time. The puja starts from the day of Mahalaya with tarpan (offerings and prayers made to the ancestors) until Vijaya Dashami (Dussehra). The buzz of relatives arriving starts from the day before Mahalaya. This is the scene every year. I am writing this as the Durga Puja is at our doorstep and I am set to leave for home; an incident from my past comes to mind, and I feel as though I must share it with you. You could say that it is one of the most important incidents of my life, one that helped me to be what I am today.

It was the year 2005, while I was doing my graduation. The puja had started from the day of Mahalaya and since I was to appear for the board exams the next year, I was to offer extra puja to bribe the Goddess into helping me pass one of the toughest exams!

Now, the puja had started at our home with all the usual rituals. I used to get up at 4 in the morning to pick Shiuli (Night-flowering jasmine/Parijat ) flowers from our garden. This was the main task to be done by the children of the family leaving the other tougher jobs for our elders. I still enjoy picking up the flowers from my garden; it is my way of worshipping the ideal of shree shakti (woman power).

As I grew up, my obsession with Durga Puja became stronger as if it is the only important thing in my life, for which I wait the whole year. Even now, reaching home a little late during puja brings tears to my eyes. Even today, new clothes aren’t as important for me as being at home during Puja.

That year, as it was to be more special, I made extra preparations for puja. I had planned to take extra precautions to delay my periods – I guess this is the most important precaution during any ritual taking place in an orthodox Hindu family. But in all the excitement, I forgot to take my medications and had my periods on the early morning of Maha-astami, the second day of Durga Puja.

It is said to be one of the important days of Durga Puja, and you can imagine how I felt when I realised that I had periods on such an important day. Tears rolled down my eyes as if they had been waiting there all this time to fall. It was three in the morning. I did all that was to be done and went back to sleep. Next thing I knew, my baba woke me up at four to pick flowers for the puja. I picked and filled at least five medium sized baskets for the puja. Finishing the task, I went to the bathroom to take my bath and recalled what had happened earlier. I ran out and informed my mother of the whole thing. Being a woman with modern ideas, she simply said, “Leave it, what’s done is done.” The other ladies who overheard us, however, and started whispering among themselves. They made me feel as if I had committed a crime for which the punishment could be nothing less than capital.

This made me feel afraid that it might bring bad luck to my family. The puja had already begun and I ran to inform my baba, whom  I consider to be my best friend, about the whole incident. Running straight to him, I told him what had happened and insisted that he throw the flowers away. Some of the other ladies also insisted on it. But then my choto-ma (aunt) & baba said, “Let it be.

The other ladies started exchanging looks as if something horrible had happened. One of them piped up, “Please throw them or it shall be bad for the whole family.” Baba said, “Nothing is bad about it. Durga is a form of Shakti. She is the representation of womanhood. Doesn’t she pass through these special days? Do you take her away from the temple then?

I was surprised and looked around to see that that the others were struck dumb. Only choto-ma added a nod of assurance. But then someone from behind questioned, “Who shall be held responsible if something bad happens to the family?

Baba said, “Then you should not do the puja since you don’t have faith in yourself. No one is responsible for anyone else’s Karma. The flowers shall not be thrown away. If you don’t want to do puja with these flowers then you can pick flowers by yourself now or just leave for good.” Everyone kept quiet. As the sun rays fall on it, the shiuli loses its freshness. Hence there were no flowers one could get from the garden. Moreover, the flowers which I had picked had already been used for making garlands and offered by the pandit to the Goddess.

Baba turned towards me now. He embraced me and said, “You are the prasad (fruit) of my sadhana (meditation). You are special. Your offerings can never be thrown away. There may be a reason behind everything, but all reasons aren’t right. You need to question society about it. If society stays dumb, then go with your conscience. You might be alone but at least you’ll know you are right. It may take time but slowly others will follow. And if you don’t question society then its heavy walls of rules will cripple you. Question and be independent in your thoughts and answer only when you are asked for. Don’t give excuses, give reasons. Then you will survive, and become strong and sound. Now, go and wear your new saree; I am waiting to have a new look at my ma.

I understood and hugged him, then ran back to get ready.

The flowers which I had picked up were offered in the puja and that year, no ill luck came to our family. Instead, my brother passed his boards with around 80% marks. I got promoted to the second year with above 90% and there was other good news too from various family members.

Everything ended well, thus making me learn one important lesson is life, “Question when you aren’t satisfied, and give reasons, not excuses.

This article was originally published here. It has been republished with the author’s permission.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)’.

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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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