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Why Does Hinduism Still Insist On Impurity Of Menstruation?

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

Menstruation is a stigma in our society, and it has been built up due to an orthodox belief in the impurity of menstruating women and society’s unwillingness of having a healthy discussion on it. The silence around menstruation is so culturally ingrained that we can see it in our homes. For example, a family objecting menstruating girls visiting religious places for fear of hampering the “purity” of the place.

The Part Religions Plays In Menstrual Stigmas And Taboos:

Religion has ingrained itself in our lives and influences the way people act, think and feel. In the Indian context, Hinduism – throughout its existence has affected every aspect of the daily lives of its followers. Through the centuries, India has undergone several political and cultural changes. Still, secular India has been unable to remove itself from the menstrual taboo circulating within the society and its various religions.

Women isolated in thatched huts during menses. Picture courtesy:

Menstrual myths and taboos as it exists in India find a home in the Hindu belief of menstrual blood as dirty and impure. Despite the development of India into a modern, and secular state, Hinduism still recognizes the impurity of menstruation. A thirteen-year-old girl from Annaikaadu village in Tamilnadu died due to Cyclone Gaja, as it was “tradition” to isolate menstruating girls in thatched huts. It shakes our belief that in the era of women empowerment, we are still bound to old ideas that menstruating women are unclean and dirty raising a serious question of when will people will understand the actual meaning of menstruation?

Indian religions, with regards to menstruation, are an example of paradoxes- where in some parts menstruation taboos are practised. In contrast, in some parts, the girl’s menarche is a source of celebration. A survey by Aru Bartiya in her paper “menstruation, religion and society, 2013” shows that 46% girls who were between the age of 20-25 years entered the temple while menstruating and 18% said they are allowed after a few days. This states that there is little shift in a paradigm of cultural rules. But the 36% girls said albeit knowing the science behind menstruation, they still stick to the old rules as they don’t want to offend their elders while only 4% were of the notion that they feel impure during menstruation.

Education and awareness are the key stakeholders to debug myths and taboos. According to NFHS-IV survey, 58% of women in India use hygienic methods, and 42% use sanitary pads out of 336 millions of menstruating women. The alternatives are cloth pads which require the maintenance of its own. Used by an estimated 62% of Indian women, misinformation and stigma prevent women from cleaning their pads in properly like drying in the sun. They dry the damp cloth pads in areas where they can’t be seen. Such types of practices lead to urinary tract infection, fungal infection and cervical cancer among women.

Different Socio-Culture And Rituals On Menstruation Around Us:

Our society shies away from discussing menstruation which leads to various inconveniences for young girls who aren’t well informed and hence tend to hold various misconceptions which they carry life long unless someone teaches them correctly on the topic.

menstrual taboos in india
For representation only

In various scheduled tribes, it is an age-old belief that mothers do not communicate about menses to their daughters. In Kayastha families, touching vinegar or ghee during menstruation is forbidden and is considered a bad omen. In Marwari families, a menstruating girl does not attend to guests or serve food because the girl is deemed to be unholy or impure and even entering into the kitchen and storeroom is prohibited. It is believed that menstruating girls do not touch new grocery items because those items are part of the kitchen, and new things are not to be touched during menses. Girls also reported tying a piece of black thread on their feet (just as an anklet) to reduce pain.

In Bhargav Brahmins, menstruating women do not touch iron-made things like locks and keys. Earlier, girls on menarche were made to eat in separate utensils and weren’t allowed to mix their clothes with other family members.

In many other tribal groups, girls do not participate in plantation work, touching or watering plants during menses. Oraon tribe of Jharkhand believes that when a girl attains menarche and if her mother tears a piece of cloth in three equal parts in one breath and gives that piece of fabric for use it during menses, it reduces the abdominal pain.

In Vaishya families, when a girl attains menarche, she has to cut a piece of thread of her height, which her mother throws on the roof. It is believed that this reduces the duration of menstruation from five days to three days, to make the girl feel comfortable.

AJ Singh, in his study “Place of menstruation in the reproductive lives of women’s of rural North India“, believes that in India and its various religions, the concept of evil-eye and magic is strong. The piece of cloth/rags/pads used for menstrual bleeding is considered as a potent agent for casting evil-eye on someone. Therefore, the menstrual cloth/pads are considered to be part of the secret world of women’s lives. Hence women, especially in rural areas, make an attempt to hide and conceal the rags or pads by throwing into a garbage heap, burying it under the earth, or even burning it.

But, it’s a striking question that why can’t women use the same cloth again after washing? But the women have their prejudices and justification of their reproductive behaviour by stating that they consider the vaginal discharge as a kind of disease and reusing the same cloth (even after washing it, there might be some dirt left) considered to be unclean.

When talking about patriarchy and its relation to menstruation, it significantly plays a substantial role in preventing a change in perception. When men are responsible for women’s accessibility to toilets, sanitary pads, and participation in awareness campaigns, it becomes harder to enact change. Even though modern times are associated with industrialization and growth of the middle class has brought a shift in gender roles in terms of better access to education, employment and overcoming the taboos which are part of traditional societies. However, that does not eradicate patriarchy, and it brings new forms of subordination with their own contradictions.

The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program

You must be to comment.
  1. Sakshi Kapoor

    It’s a sad truth of perception of rural people towards menstruation.

  2. Divya Yadav

    The writer’s in-depth research and knowledge is remarkable. Bringing out all the ideas and putting them up here has provided a good article to read. I hope this article reaches out to many and the word periods gets out of the list of “taboos”.

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