Girls In This UP District Are Forced To Live In Separate Huts Till They’re “Pure” Again

Period Paath logoEditor’s Note: This article is a part of #Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC, to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management among menstruating persons in India. Join the conversation to take action and demand change! The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of the partners.

By Shradha Bahuguna:

As a part of Realising India, our group visited Maharajganj district in Uttar Pradesh, India. As per our itinerary, on the 7th day of our rural immersion journey, we decided to visit the Vantangiya Community in the Pharenda block. The Vantagiya community comprises people brought from Myanmar during the colonial rule, by Lord Mountbatten, to plant trees for afforestation. ‘Tangia’ is a distortion of the word for the Burmese technique of shifting hill plantation.

We started our journey in the morning through a calm, bright day, and entered the fresh meadows of the forest. I was exhilarated, as it was my first community visit, and I wanted to see how it goes. As we entered the Vantagiya community, I could see the area covered by the forest canopy. It had banana trees and plantation of paddy, which were ready for harvesting. The huts had a thatched roof, covered with hay, in shades of brown, mud walls, and climbers over the hay.

Further, I could see a school where the kids were sitting outside the classroom, and studying; it reminded me of the time when my teachers used to take our classes outside during winters. As we moved forward, I could see a canal encompassing the school which had mosquitoes breading it. The dilapidated school building showed us a glimpse of the poor condition of people. I wanted to stop and see the school, but we had to move further.

During our visit, we met Kumud Devi (name changed). I could see her bright smile amidst the crowd. I approached her and started interacting with her. I asked her if we could meet the ASHA workers in the community. With excitement, she asked us to accompany her. We asked her “where do you live?”.  She said- “It’s just nearby, do you want to see?” An instant YES came out of my mouth. She took us to her house.  It was a one-room house that had a thatched roof, covered with climbers, and also had a white rabbit.

As we came out, I saw two rooms nearby. Out of curiosity, I asked her about them. She replied, saying one is where the toilet has to be constructed, and the other is a storage facility. I got closer and looked at the room which she described was for the toilet. It was an open room with no door; only the mud walls were built, other than that, the toilet seat was not there. Seeing the condition of the room, some questions emerged in my mind. But I restricted my thoughts and went further.

As she was showing us around, I saw beautiful huts adjacent to each other, which I hadn’t seen anywhere in our journey. I was perplexed, and out of curiosity, asked her “What are the huts for?” She told me that one of the huts is for the family and another for the girls when they attain puberty and start having periods.

I was awestruck for a moment and wanted to inquire more of the situation. She added that in the community, every household has separate huts for the girls to stay during their periods. The girls, (both married and unmarried) stay in a separate hut, till their menopause. The family provides the girl’s food, and they live there until they are “pure” again.

Thoughts of the school came back to me, which I saw, as we had entered the village, so I asked her – “Phir school ka kya?” (So, what about school?) She said, “Us samay school nahi jati” (They don’t go to school during that time). I couldn’t imagine myself being in that state and living separately from my family during periods. I controlled my emotions and asked her if they knew about pads and if they used them. She smiled at me and said that the people knew about pads ,but nobody in the community used them, due to the high cost. So they used cloth, which was reused again and again.

Hearing Kumud Devi, I was reminded of the movie that I earlier discarded to be true, thinking that the condition of girls has improved in the last 72 years. I was reminded of the high dropout rates of girls after the 5th class. The same dropout rate becomes alarming due to the “pure”-“unpure” dichotomy existing in society. Some thoughts still bother me – about the girl’s hygiene and education, but they motivate and trigger me to work for a better tomorrow.

About the author: a student of the current batch of PGP in Development Leadership at ISDM. This story is from Realizing India, a component of the programme, where the students visit different districts to understand the ground realities of our country.

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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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