By Ananya Rajaram
SUBJECT – An open letter beseeching the eradication of societal taboos and addressing the lack of medical support for menstruating women.
Smt. Adv. Yashomati Chandrakant Thakur (Sonawane),
Minister, Women and Child Development Department, Maharashtra
I am a millennial, typing these words on my phone , daring to imagine everything that an “unfortunate” girl goes through. I have been so engrossed in my own petty struggles that just a little research has brought to my attention what the word “suffering” really means.
I remember the first talk I had with my parents about all the negative things in the world – a bad touch, inappropriate behaviour and the process of bleeding through my vagina. Yes, having periods was one of the things in life which was not so pleasant given the pain and discomfort associated with it. I learned about sex at the very tender age of 11 ,not through inappropriate means but through education. My parents stood shocked as they read extracts of a 5th Grader’s biology textbook that gave clear answers to all my questions that they couldn’t respond to. I recollect my mom telling me that periods was the removal of “impure” blood from the female body, and on browsing through every academic article that I could have gotten my hands on, I failed to to find the word impure anywhere.
Then I turned to God, who had ready-made answers for me, I read numerous religious and spiritual articles that elaborated the process of “self purification” and the various restrictions imposed on menstruating women, with a view of protecting their mental and physical health apparently.
As a psychology student and a follower of Hinduism, I believe that the Bhagavad Gita’s views on menstruation with respect to Doshas and Koshas for the benefit of the woman herself are debatable. Whilst few practices such as avoiding certain food items indeed prevent the girl from becoming sick ,others, (in my personal, unbiased, unprofessional, and possibly naive opinion) are just plain nonsense. Honestly, I have no intent of being bombarded and harassed for expressing my thoughts-I apologise if I have somehow offended cultural sentiment of any individual reading this
A paragraph in one of the articles I read that contributed to my bitter views is as follows –
The principle reason behind preventing women from entering temples is the fact that , due to their heightened state of Rajas, they have entered a temporary phase of ritual Ashaucha, which makes them ineligible to perform religious rituals.
Menstrual blood is also considered as emitting a specific kind of subtle odour, which can potentially disturb the spiritual environment within the temple or at a religious ceremony.
Other religions seem to have similar views, –
Islam tradition dictates that Muslim women on their periods are banned from taking part in Ramadan and even touching the Quran. They must compensate for the number of days missed by fasting later and “cleansing” themselves.
So do we have proof that it was God who wrote these holy books, who discriminated against females because of a natural process ? Perhaps we should take another look at the word natural.
Let’s put aside equality, patriarchy, religion and understand what feminism really means, I saw a beautiful quote which read -“In today’s generation everyone is so busy proving that women can do everything a man can do that we are neglecting our uniqueness, for a woman was created to do everything a man can’t do ”
That’s right we give birth, we bleed and we’re not ashamed.
I can confidently say that I am figuratively though not literally #happytobleed ,for periods come with their own discomforts such as cramps, frustration, mood swings, body ache, etc. I know every other girl relates when I say I check my bag for pads every now and then ,panic when I feel think I’ve got it in a public place, make sure I don’t drop my pad for people to see, ask fellow friends if my pant looks wet, avoid wearing shorts and anything white, hoping I don’t bleed onto the bedsheet at night. The list is actually endless.
Referring to my statement at the very beginning of the letter, I am indeed one of the privileged ones, for my family though religious is not highly superstitious and has not denied me my fundamental freedoms.
I have access to sufficient and hygienic pads every month, which is not the case for several “unfortunate” women .
Statistical data and surveys have proven that less than 20 per cent of menstruating girls and women in India use pads. Instead they use old cloth, rags, hay ,sand and ash. Forget hygienic, these alternatives are merely unsafe and the fact that they are actually used for this purpose is deeply disappointing. Needless to mention the plummet in enrolment ratio with nearly 23 million girls dropping out of school every year when they start menstruating.It is true that India’s problems are socio-economic ones for given that such a large section of our population remains illiterate on account of reaching puberty, thus not contributing to the nation’s GDP and growth in general.
In 2018, India declared tampons and sanitary napkins tax-free, but most of the brands range between 5 to 12 rupees (8 cents to 20 cents) per pad, which is a luxury for the nearly 800 million people who live on less than $1.90 ( 135 Rs) a day.
The unavailability of clean washrooms is also a problematic issue, therefore I dread long road trips during my periods.
Invariably, the lack of all these facilities leads to serious infections and diseases in women. This is a plea to the relevant authorities to do everything in their power to help the cause and make lives easier for my fellow Indian sisters.
This will only occur when the government is successful is convincing the society that periods isn’t a “bad” thing and shouldn’t be restricting. This includes spreading awareness and gaining acceptance of decent values that may or may not adhere to religious customs. Even as a privileged girl I face the consequences of rigid traditional believes on menstruation- as I am seldom prevented from performing Bhartnatyam recitals when I bleed with the reason that I would upset or anger God , as an impure human depicting him/her in a dance form.
Nonetheless I can’t even imagine missing out on important life opportunities such as schooling due to periods.
It is quintessential that we break these social barriers and ensure access to minimum provisions for menstruating women. Ultimately, this is not a case of religion v/s science but instead religion v/s humanity.