68 women studying in a Swaminarayan trust college in Bhuj, Gujarat were made to remove their underwear to check whether they were menstruating.
The principal of the college, on hearing the allegation said that a bunch of women students were lying about their menstrual cycle to get permission to attend classes, decided to dig out the truth on her own and ‘punish’ the guilty. She went to the girls’ classroom, bad-mouthed them for mingling with everyone when they were on their periods, and ordered the girls to follow her, with the hostel rector, to the washroom. The undergrad women were then ordered to remove their underwear and show stains of blood, if any, to the hostel rector to check whether they were true to their word.
Menstruating women on their campuses are considered ‘impure’ and aren’t given the same ‘privileges’ as other students studying in the college. These women weren’t allowed to talk to other students and faculty, and were forced to restrain themselves from any social gatherings. Hence, they are, in turn, barred from attending lectures and having meals at their hostel mess.
Gujarat has been one of the states that is a flag-bearer for women safety and women progress. NGOs like Anandi and SEWA work for the upliftment of women in societies and work to eliminate degrading social conducts against women. I think Gujarat has always ranked well in terms of equal job opportunities to women, a reduced wage gap, and lessening the social stigma around women having careers.
In India, from ancient times, there has been a taboo around menstruating women to be ‘dirty’ and of their presence in social gatherings. Women weren’t treated as equals in the past. However, as women representation grew fierce in varied strata of societies, women demanded equal rights and privileges as their counterparts. While we have progressed by many folds in gender equality, from time to time some setbacks arise so fiercely which makes one question: “Have we actually evolved or was it all just hogwash?”
In 2010, India adopted the mindset to address the importance of menstrual hygiene. Projects like ‘Freeday Pad Scheme’ to distribute sanitary pads at subsidized rates, and ‘Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram’ to improve the health and hygiene of adolescents were implemented.
Under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, separate funds were allocated to the development of local sanitary napkin manufacturing units, and for the education and awareness of adolescents about menstrual hygiene in villages.
From talking about it at homes to social media campaigns, there have been consistent efforts to raise awareness about menstruation; it being a part of the natural cycle, and there’s nothing odd about discussing it.
But, this doesn’t necessarily mean everyone’s okay with menstrual women being accepted as ‘normal’.
The awareness about menstrual hygiene has been raised to eliminate diseases borne from improper sanitation. To escape the hesitation of going out and buying sanitary napkins from your local shop, pads and tampons have been widely advertised on TV channels and on social mediums; which leads to women resorting to hygienic methods for protection and decrease the risks of health problems. The underlying focus here is to reduce the mortality rate of women from diseases borne from improper menstrual hygiene.
But, there is no such narrative around women in periods being accepted as normal.
The trope around discussion of menstruation is to educate the women about medical consequences. This discussion limits itself on dealing with medical severities and doesn’t even try to pan out to social conducts around menstrual women. Women are not allowed to enter holy places, such as Hindu Temples when they are on their periods. Even in ‘educated’ urban places, women are required to maintain distance from Puja Ghar, a place of worship, in their own homes. Presently, the stigma of not being ‘worthy enough’ to enter and worship in a holy place has been removed. But, the stigma continues to remain universally for menstrual women.
After the mishaps at the Swaminarayan trust college, Swami Krushnaswarup Dasji, a resident at the Bhuj Mandir, commented that if women on their periods serve dinner to their husbands then, as a punishment, ‘will be born as bitches in their next lives’. In his defense, he was supposedly quoting the Hindu scriptures, and maybe felt sorry for his helplessness to obey his tradition’s teachings. The next day, women in Delhi, in retaliation to his comment, organised a feast where many menstruating women gathered to serve food. The movement was widely praised and appreciated for being progressive.
Here, women, in unison, gave a piece of their mind to the archaic mindset. But if the same women disobeyed their family’s house rules—restriction of entry to the Puja Ghar for menstruating members—the reciprocation might not be so positive.
Men always had an equal say in women’s matters. In mainstream cinema, men’s narratives are even used to alleviate women’s issues. Padman, Toilet, Pink are stories depicting core problems, faced by women, but conveyed through male icons Akshay Kumar and Mr Bachchan.
On their own issues, women are yet to be given a monopoly to handle their matters by themselves. They usually have to incorporate men’s will in battling their issues, while the vice-versa isn’t true. You won’t see women’s opinions taken into equal consideration about matters of erectile dysfunction, premature baldness, or sperm donation!
While men’s narratives are considered as a token of support in battling women’s issues, this gesture seems more of a path correction—as earlier men’s own opinions have been responsible for women’s struggles.
Rather than convincing every other man of women’s power, the focus should be on handing the reins of women’s issues to them and eliminating men’s narratives completely. Although it isn’t a certain solution, like the women executives being involved in the Bhuj incident, I think it’s worth the effort.
Battling their own issues won’t necessarily mean that we have found the Holy Grail of solutions for all our problems but it would certainly lead to eliminating the need to please one more gender to have redressals.