Honourable Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu,
I would not be writing to you directly and bypassing officials and other representatives at the local level if things were as they were before August 5, 2019, and if the problem I am going to write about was not widespread at a place where you currently work.
In the first place, I wish nothing had changed. But then, reality has its own ways to deal you heavy blows from time to time. I don’t want to tell how bad or good I feel about the decision that the government at the Centre took vis-a-vis the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. This will derail the entire purpose and meaning of what I am going to tell you about the way it did on August 5 of life, especially in Kashmir, the population of which, according to Census 2011, is 69,07,623 residents and not 5,35,811 residents as shown by the MHA’s (Ministry of Home Affairs) website (The Wire reported on January 17). Hopefully, we see an increase in the population when the next census will be held in 2021.
Sir, I am sorry if I am exploiting and plaguing this space with other issues. But, I deem it right to include them as well, as one way or the other, or on certain occasions entirely, they are related to the issue I am now bringing to your notice for immediate and thorough action.
Before addressing the problem, I want you to know it first and what areas of it need more attention. The problem is the otherwise-easily-preventable complications our girls and women in Kashmir face in the absence of proper sanity care when they are menstruating. I wonder, in a situation, where people find it a herculean task to only reach a hospital, how can one expect that there are things in place for our females which they need during periods! Amid curfews and shutdowns and on other occasions when snow, landslides, and avalanches throw life out of gear, our females, teens and adults, don’t have access to sanitary napkins. They are forced to use pieces of cloth that are unsafe and likely to cause vaginal infections, rashes and, in extreme cases, anemia and infertility.
I believe it is the same when Kashmir shows some semblance of normalcy. Take this case for instance which I recently came across but was reported in April 2019. It says that a female doctor in Srinagar started a crowdfunding campaign to provide sanitary napkins to poor girls after she was ‘pained’ by their poor menstrual hygiene in the impoverished city neighbourhood. The other reasons were social taboos and lack of affordability, according to the report. This is the condition in Srinagar, what about the rest of the Valley?
I have never bought sanitary napkins for anyone, not even my mother or sisters. I have no memory of talking about menstruation and menstrual hygiene with any of the female members of my family. They never told me that periods are accompanied by pain (cramps), acne breakouts, bloating, mood changes and other complications that I would only come to know later in my life. Yet, they carried on with their lives as if they were not suffering. Looking back, it saddens me not to be of some help, at least in buying the pads for them.
So, today, I asked my sister, hesitantly though, about the same issue and she was frank enough to put her points across, especially in demanding that awareness about safe menstrual cycles should not be limited to some particular events or days like Menstrual Hygiene Day (28 May) only and that sanitary napkins should be made available at all places.
‘Given our culture, we feel shy to buy sanitary pads from a shopkeeper or a chemist because all of them happen to be males. As a result, many of us don’t buy them at all and end up going the traditional way, which is using a cloth,” my sister told me. “They should be made available for free, at least for girls and women who can’t afford to buy them every month, and should be distributed at community levels.”
Sir, it does not need any telling what our girls and women have to put up with on a daily basis in Kashmir. Decades-long chaos and conflict in the Valley has taken a heavy toll on their lives. Just search ‘women in Kashmir’ on Google, you will mostly come across reports and images of them weeping, mourning, digging nails into their faces, and several other soul-wrenching pictures.
Maybe, small attention from you helps them at least stay safe from the dangers that emanate from the poor menstrual hygiene.