By Nansi Mishra:
As a kid, I was never very proud of the fact that I belong to a village. I sometimes used to get irritated when people would call me a “village girl”. Growing up, I used to see women working all day in the kitchen. A category of working women of villages used to work all day on the farms, some milking cows. I have also witnessed some very terrible things that happen to them. Each day they follow the same routine. Then suddenly comes a time every month, when they get boycotted from the house for the next seven days. They are kept away from their toddlers and treated as untouchables.
I still remember talking to my mom from a distance as I was a six-year-old who couldn’t live without her mother even for a few hours. I used to sit outside that abandoned room all day talking to her. My presence couldn’t do anything but to make her feel how wrong this custom is.
Today, I am thankful that I spent the best part of my life living in a village, and never miss a chance to show it. These memories make me feel so connected with every woman who shares their daily struggles in the SHEROES Health Community, which I am lucky to moderate.
This year on Menstrual Hygiene Day, I invited our women to share their period stories, and many of the stories really touched me.
31-year-old Sangeeta posted that she used to get a vaginal infection because of forced physical relations during menstruation. She was not allowed to enter the kitchen or stay with her kids. Yet, this forced relation was allowed. One day she just broke her silence and left her husband. After many days when her husband came to bring her back, she laid down her conditions and took charge of her health.
25-year-old Aarti was not allowed to touch boys during her periods. After seven days, a purification ceremony is done, and only after that, she is allowed to be free in her own house. Though her brothers used to question her mom about it, their questions were ignored. One day, she collected everyone in the house and told them why she is kept away for seven days. Her brothers supported her and that was the day when that ritual was ended in her home.
Bhumika, 30, belonging to Shimla noticed during a visit to her uncle’s house that everyone was seated on sofas, except for her aunty who was made to sit on the floor. The floor was so cold, so Bhumika invited her to sit on the sofa.“She gave me a hint to be quiet but I took her to another room and asked her about it. After that I went outside and fought with everyone,” she wrote. After the incident, Bhumika was banned from visiting her uncle for some months. However, she is happy to know now that her aunty no longer sits on the floor during her periods.
Kirti posted, “When I got my first period there was a big celebration where the whole village came to see me, and I was married to a tree. I was happy to get new clothes and jewellery but felt very embarrassed about the whole ceremony. I vowed if I have a daughter, I would not subject her to this. I am thankful to my teachers who helped me understand my feelings better, and abolish this tradition, in my family.” In Yamini’s village, menstrual blood was believed to be dangerous, and that a woman can use her menstrual blood to do black magic.
Despite India’s progress, there are many regressive practices and beliefs prevailing across our country. However, women themselves are raising their voices in their own small ways, standing up to discrimination, and getting support from other women and their families. Every action, no matter how small, is a step closer to taking charge of her health, education and security.
About Nansi Mishra: 24-year-old Nansi is a community manager at SHEROES, the women’s community platform, where she moderates and shapes conversations in the Health Community, and encourages women to create a circle of support for each other. She is also pursuing a Master’s in Philanthropy and has previously worked as a community manager with Babygogo, India’s largest online platform for mothers (now part of SHEROES).