This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Rupsa Nag. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

I Broke The Silence To Interview My Mother And Grandmother On Periods

More from Rupsa Nag

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.

I spoke to three generations of women—my grandmother, mother, and me; to understand how menstruation and ideas around it have changed or not, across time.

Hena Basu, dida, was born on 31 August 1935. She had nine siblings and her father was a doctor at the Cellular Jail in Malda. She is 85 now. Her marriage was arranged with my late grandfather when she was 18 and she went from Kolkata, West Bengal to Raipur, Chhattisgarh. A mother to 5 daughters.

Sheeooli Nag, ma, was born on 26 December 1965. She is 55 now. She was born and brought up in Raipur, Chhattisgarh. She moved to Kolkata for her job and works at the Datacore group as a Project Manager.

Born in 1996, I am 24 now. I was born and brought up in Kolkata where I completed my studies and am also currently situated.

Image design by Rupsa Nag
  • When Did You Start Menstruating?

Hena: Around fifteen years I think.

Sheeooli: Around twelve years old.

Rupsa: Thirteen years old.

  • What Menstrual Product Did You Use?

Hena: Cloth. They were cut from old sarees, folded over and over to make it thick and layered, placed inside the underwear and held together by a string attached around the waist. We changed it daily, washed it with soap, and dried in the sun. One cloth lasted 3 days after which it was discarded. Because I used cloth and wanted my girls to use the best quality product.

Sheeooli: Cloth then pad. Pads like the kind available in hospitals and after that Carefree and then Stayfree. Now I use whisper.

Rupsa: Whisper Ultra XL green. It caused skin issues so I shifted to Ultra Soft which still causes sores and rashes. I wish to switch to a menstrual cup soon.

  • How Did/Do You Dispose It?

Hena: After it was washed after the final use, it was thrown along with the garbage. It was not burnt because what if something happens if it is burnt? You know, it is not regular cloth, something could happen, it was a superstition of sorts.

Sheeooli: We washed it in the soap after use. Because it was reusable, they lasted around three months if maintained well. For disposal, we wrapped it (washed cloth) in paper and threw it with household garbage when the collector used to come. For pads, I followed the same process, and now pads I throw them in the packet they already come in.

Rupsa: I wrap it in the packet it comes in and throw it in the dustbin but recently learned that I should also use a newspaper and mark it with a red dot.

  • You Said You Washed It, So Was It Put Out To Dry In The Open?

Hena: Not completely, but yes a bit because those things could not be out in the open, especially back then. Didi instructed, ‘Rode rekhe keu jeno na dekhe, shukno holey uthiye nibi’ (Put it out to dry in the sun, ensure nobody sees it.)

Sheeooli: Same for us. It was kept out of visibility.

Rupsa: I used to hide my pad inside my clothes when taking it with me to the washroom inside my home because that is what I saw my mother do. I do not do it anymore and am not uncomfortable if my products are visible to others.

  • Who Took Care Of Your Menstrual Needs As A Kid?

Hena: My didi. I lost my mother as a child; I have no memory of her. Didi used to show me everything and make the pads for me.

Sheeooli: My mother made us shift from cloth to pads. My father would source it from the hospital; we do not exactly know how it came because this was never discussed.

Rupsa: My mother and father.

  • Did You Ever Seek Help From Any Male Member Of The Household?

Hena: We were 10 siblings. Didi took care of all the sisters’ needs and no one else was involved in it. Such things were highly concealed and done very carefully so that nothing is visible on the outside.

Sheeooli: Yes, I have, with my husband. I have never discussed it with anyone other than him.

Rupsa: Yes, my father. He even gave me a book on the female body, sexuality, and taking care of it. He had bought it to educate himself when my mother was pregnant. I like to think of it as an heirloom now.

  • Did You Go To School While On Your Periods?

Hena: Yes. With greater protection like more cloth would be stuffed in and it would be tied very tightly to prevent leakage. I also carried spare cloth.

Sheeooli: Yes.

Rupsa: Yes.

  • Your PMS Experience?

Hena: I cannot recall. These things used to stay undercover. Kauke na bole bole hoyto bhuleo gechi (By remaining silent consistently, I’ve probably forgotten what I experienced.) Mone hoto karur e jokhon hoyna, amaro hoyna, ek i rokom toh (Used to feel that if this is what everyone experiences, then mine would be same as theirs.)

Sheeooli: Fatigue, pain in the legs, mood swings.

Rupsa: Severe cramps for which I take Mag Phos but medicines don’t always help. I get fatigued, nausea, leg pain, mood swings, energy rush, and more.

  • Any Period Rules? Do They Feel Justified Enough?

Hena: Nothing great just no entering thakurghor (worship place), touching things there and touching worship equipment or flowers. It was not like we were prevented from entering kitchens or anything but we were just on our toes all the time because back in the day people were ‘shuchibaigrostho’ (obsessed over superstitious cleanliness). It seems wrong now.

Sheeooli: We were told to be more aware of those days. Make sure we do not touch any things of worship. Nothing else. It is not a problem if someone worships on those days but to each their own.

Rupsa: To not touch anything meant for worship. Barred from Durga Puja prayers until my mother said one day, let’s go, no one will know anyway. They were passionately justified. But the justifications were illogical and vague to me.

  • Did/Do You Regularly Go For An Ob-Gyn Check-Up?

Hena: No. We never went to the doctor. My father was a doctor but he was busy with his work and we couldn’t discuss such things with him, neither did he. I have seen my daughters’ cousin be taken to the doctor because she suffered extreme cramps. She felt so much pain that I used to be up by her side all night.

Sheeooli: No.

Rupsa: Not regularly but only for my severe cramps.

  • Was This Addressed At School?

Hena: In school, my subjects were history, geography, math, and art. I never recall studying science in lower classes too or anything about the reproductive system. Nobody ever talked about it so I do not even know about it.

Sheeooli: No, never.

Rupsa: No. In fact at school, I remember several instances of announcements asking girls to stay back after morning assembly. It was basically the time to discuss ‘girls’ washroom’ issues like, ‘Who disposed of the pad badly? It is dirty and should be properly disposed of.’ While teaching clean disposal is fine, the overwhelming secrecy was really problematic now that I look back. In fact, one time, upon hearing a female classmate’s complaint, a teacher accused me of talking to my two best friends who happened to be boys about periods. It’s a different thing that I didn’t do it but I did not think doing it was wrong even then. The incident, in fact, pushed me to be open about it thereon.

Picture credit: Siskathecat on Flickr.com

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

You must be to comment.

More from Rupsa Nag

Similar Posts

By Imran Khan

By Wasiq Agha

By Mouna Mukherjee

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below