My School Refused To Talk About Periods, And I Became A ‘Period Criminal’

Even after getting my education from an elite school in the urban landscape, I never knew that I would turn out to be a criminal. Yes, you heard me right. A period criminal.

I will now begin my story without any more fuzz. So I completed my education, like most people, from a decent school, and I thought my education had taught me everything that I needed in order to understand this world, but I was dead wrong.

When I entered college, I happen to interact with the other gender in an open environment. But, I realized that my awareness about social issues and gender studies was so inadequate, and that gap between my formal education and reality is what made me a period criminal.

So, this is what happened. My school never gave us any awareness ‘session’ on menstrual hygiene, apart from the 8th chapter in our biology textbook, from the 10th standard. Girls were given different ‘workshops‘ but we were not told about it. Neither were we told what role we play as a stakeholder in all this, or how we should perceive menstruation as a part of ‘womanhood‘. This led to the development of very dizzy concepts in my mind.

Every time my female friends talked to me about their well-being, they would simply say “My stomach is hurting” and I had only one response, “Why don’t you go to a doctor?”

And, now that I look back, I realise that my comments were wrong at so many levels. Girls around me tried every possible to make me understand that ‘It is that time of the month‘, but I was unable to grasp those words, and that made me a criminal in people’s eyes. I came off as an insensitive and rude person who has no consideration towards women’s bodies.

But, WHO Was To Blame?

For a few years, initially, I blamed myself. I thought that it was on me to know all of this from the internet and through grapevine gossip. But, me being very a personal and reserved person when it came to ‘intimate’ topics ruled out the possibility of getting to know about it from my peers. Therefore, I took the help of Google Baba, and that somehow led to very wrong and half-baked information. Now, at this point, I knew something about periods and the female body, but as they say, half-knowledge is dangerous, and this half-knowledge caused a series of embarrassing setbacks again.

According to the internet, PMS usually leads to irritation and annoyance in the female mood. Now, taking all the internet masala as my guiding cornerstone, I thought I was a know-it-all. But, again, the results were the same. I will share a small incident with everyone. There was a time when my best friend was irritated and going by my collected research, I happen to say “Are you PMSing?” Oh gosh, how she responded tore me up again. Continuous failure to understand the small things made me lose self-worth and I began to introspect.

Then, after a lot of self-guilt and contemplation, I moved onto analysing the turn where I went wrong in my life that brought me to this. And after a lot of research and soul-searching and internet gyaan (knowledge) and reading the official guidelines on ‘Menstrual Hygiene Management’ (MHM) issued by the Union government, I came to only one conclusion, that it was the fault of our education system, not even just my school.

I was not a criminal, in fact, I was a victim of our imbalanced and academic-focused school curriculum. And, I know there are a lot of guys who can relate to my story because we all went through basically the same schooling. We don’t give our children a proper knowledge of things and expect them to learn everything on their own.

Parents shun away from awkward conversations, leaving their part of the responsibility on the shoulders of school. And then, schools are busy with academic competitions or shushing away important things in the name of ‘preserving the decorum‘.

To this day, I remember that moment exactly when one of my female friends told me “You are not open and don’t understand things.” This broke me.

It may sound a very normal statement to anyone, but this shook my whole world. I suffered an existential crisis because of these words. I couldn’t believe that even after spending 20-plus years of life with a good education and tackling social issues, I would end up being an idiot. I questioned myself, what kind of a well-informed person I am if people see me as an individual who doesn’t even get basic things.

It was such a self-humiliating journey. I hope future generations don’t have to go through that and they come off as sensitive and aware individuals. therefore I urge our schools to either implement the menstrual hygiene guidelines in its entirety or make MHM as a mandatory subject for all.

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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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