#PeriodPaath: Menstruation Is No Taboo

Editor’s Note: This post is an entry for the #Periodपाठ writing contest, a unique opportunity for you to write a letter and stand a chance of winning up to ₹30,000! The contest is organised by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC. Find out more here and submit your entry!

Dear PM Modiji,

I hope this letter finds you well. You are a really busy man and I hope you could take out some time for this letter of mine and read it to the end. Let me tell you this that though the issue that I am going to write about might sound trivial and not “significant” but believe me when I say this that every word of this letter is significant.

Utter the word “menstruation” or “period” and a silence descends in a room. Utter it in a gathering and you will hear sniggers or people looking here and there and shifting in their seats uncomfortably. The word carries along with it a sense of embarrassment and guilt so much so that it borders close to mental-harassment, if you could ask the women who come from small towns and rural areas. Thanks to the treatment menstruation has received that even today many consider it as an ailment that one needs to go through every month. And it’s tabooed nature could be guessed by the fact that even today, in cities, you would find a woman asking for a sanitary pad in a hushed tone that would be handed over to her by the pharmacist under the table, hurriedly,wrapped in a paper. How would a woman feel comfortable going through it, not to forget the physical discomfort, when she is made to feel uncomfortable by each and everyone around her?

If there’s one word that could define our society then that would be “conservative”. As children, while growing up, even before we are told what shall we talk about we are handed over a list of things that we shouldn’t. Our list of taboos is as exhaustive as the menu of a 5 star buffet. From what words we shall not utter to the boundaries that are drawn within the walls of our houses, to the topics that are only whispered and passes around in hushed words, lead us to believe in a distorted reality of everything. And menstruation is right at the top of that list.

Shocking it may seem but it is true when I say that even women of our society find it increasingly awkward to discuss menstruation among themselves. Look at the way our ads maintain that “taboo” label on menstruation in their ads. A cycle of period is mentioned as “In those days..” or “unn dinon main…” in Hindi. Thankfully a few have started to call it what it is, “Periods”. The liquid is still blue though. May be that’s something to do with the I&B ministry’s standards. But it still remains a topic that is showed in a way that creates confusion whereas it should create more and more awareness. Most of my male friends, including myself, didn’t even know that something like Periods existed in our teen years and I hail from the capital city of a state. Things have changed for the better with the advent of the internet but the situation is still grim in small towns and villages where the men come to know of the actual biology behind menstruation way past their twenties and in most cases only after their marriage and only when he tries to understand what the devil happens to his wife every month that it changes the routine everyone.

I am not going to delve deep into the superstitions surrounding menstruation because I believe they are so deeply entrenched in the society that it is would be a herculean task to remove them entirely, even from the social fabric of a metropolis. Even the educated and the elite believe in the superstitions and practice it. Blame it on our religions or the way the blind beliefs have been drilled into us, it is difficult to let go of a few of the peripheral ones surrounding it. But yes efforts, continuous and meaningful, are to be made to free something that is natural to the female body from the shackles of menstruation.
Efforts should be made through newspaper articles, magazines, news, FM services and Television ads that the topic makes it way to our living rooms and doesn’t remain hidden and wrapped in newspaper in obscure crevices of bathrooms. Anganwaadis, Public Health Departments, Government Schools could provide that window in the rural parts of India.

Men find it difficult to discuss the same with the women and vice versa. But in a group of only men or women they are more free and the discussions, if carried out by someone respected in the locality, would yield results and help remove the taboo. The teachers could be trained so that they could impart and answer the basic questions about male and female sexuality in an acceptable manner. I think it’s time the HRD comes up with a policy regarding sex-education. Free sanitary pads should be made available in provision stores in villages and that could be one way to turn it into something that is as normal as any provisions.

Dear Pradhan Mantriji, I believe it is high time that this matter is taken seriously and be considered as a much needed social reform for a country that is at the cusp of development.

Thank You

Tapas Mohanty

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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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