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Why The Taboo That Haunts Society Most Is Choices

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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.

Teenagers and their curiosity about new discoveries are quite normal. I don’t know why exploring things is taboo in our society. Why are these rules abided not because we want to but because we should? Why should we?

Recently, there was a post on Facebook about menstrual cycle and sanitary pads. Why do we have to wrap them in paper while buying them anyway? Why do people hesitate about buying a condom when they want to have sex? Why are condom ads and sanitary pad ads embarrassing to watch with your family even when they know that you know? How many teenagers actually know the proper usage and importance of contraceptives for safe sex?

They learn all they want about sex from the internet, false doctor sites and porn movies. These sources mislead people on serious issues of AIDS and HIV, and the precautions one needs to take while having multiple partners. This got me thinking, there are so many taboos about things as important and vital as menstruation and sex.

I have seen friends and classmates who want to have sex, but are not even ready to buy condoms on their own.

I have seen friends and classmates who want to have sex, but are not even ready to buy condoms on their own. They are embarrassed about asking for a condom or a sanitary pad at a shop. Elderly shop owners stare at you with a half-smile, as if saying, “I know you are menstruating” or “You are having sex tonight.

For God’s sake, these people are living their life just like you are. Why does that have to be embarrassing? When we were teenagers, many guys would be curious about sanitary pad and condom ads. Their parents never bothered to clear the air, and sex and menstruation remained a taboo for them.

I remember this one guy who asked me what menstruation was all about, and I explained it to him. What followed was my mother instructing me to never discuss this topic with boys. My question was why can’t they know? But there was no answer. What I later discovered is that due to a lack of conversations around menstruation, boys end up building assumptions about periods and sex, which is totally wrong because nobody decides to sit them down and explain it to them.

Menstruators are not allowed into temples or offer pujas when they’re menstruating. But doesn’t God say that we can pray to him anytime? Isn’t praying a personal thing? How can a normal, physical-biological cycle stop you from praying? Back in ancient times, when women had their periods, they were meant to sit in a room and not go out because of lack of amenities to keep the flow in check. This was for hygienic purposes then, and not as a rule.

This is the land where the Kamasutra was written, where sex is considered a practice, where we worship Kamadeva and where the walls of Khajuraho still reveal astonishing truths. The truths revealed shows how modern and outgoing people of the subcontinent were about lovemaking. It was not seen as an embarrassing thing to discuss or reveal.

In some so-called conservative families, even love is a taboo. You are not supposed to fall in love, instead, you’re expected to marry a perfect stranger whom you’ve met only twice before your marriage. If you fall in love, what follows are forced marriages and honour killings. Aren’t marriages made out of love only? Don’t we love our families? Why is love a crime then? Why does, then, love come between you and your family’s reputation, forcing you to choose one between the two?

A man lying on a stained bed sheet
Menstruators are not allowed into temples or offer pujas when they’re menstruating. But doesn’t God say that we can pray to him anytime?

There are still taboos about accepting women as men’s bosses. It might hurt some male egos, but if she is more qualified than you, then she is eligible to be your boss. You need to respect her. Yes, she is a housewife. Yes, she is financially dependent on you. But look at you. You are more dependent on her. She cooks, cleans and brings up your children, and manages the household financially. Without her, you wouldn’t be able to live. So why can you not thank her once in a while instead of proving your might with how bad the meat was or how messy the room is?

The taboo that haunts society more than anything else is choices. Children are meant to fulfil their parents’ dreams and unfulfilled aspirations, and if they think out of the box to do something else, their dreams are shut down with responsibilities. They need to be flaunted as trophies at social gatherings, and nothing less than doctors or engineers would do. There is no scope for musicians, writers, designers or photographers to follow their dream.

The result of these taboos takes a toll on young lives. India has a high number of cases of suicides, especially among teens, due to parental pressure. Abortions are practiced all over the country illegally and not be accounted for. Honour killings and forced marriages have risen, especially in less developed areas, and forced marriages lead to an alarming rate of divorces. Treating men as superiors have taken an effect on the lives of women, and frequent cases rapes, murders and trafficking of girls and teenagers are an effect of how men and boys are learning to treat girls at their homes.

So, to all those who are reading this, please pass it on to all the elders. Talking about sex and menstruation is important and not dirty. It helps women live a healthy mental and physical life. So start today and help get these taboos out of our society for everyone’s benefit. The golden age of India came around the time when people used to think scientifically and to frame religious beliefs. They did not feel embarrassed about natural systems and this has been proved on the public walls of Khajuraho. Open the doors of your mind and let it be free and liberal. Only then can we move a step closer to establishing the right over wrong and dharma over adharma.

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  1. Nishant

    Excellent and well written blog post Suranya, Very much needed in today’s world. Nice to read such opinions on sex and menstruation. We the Youth need to lead such unspoken subjects. But the biggest battle is fought at the home. Looking forward to connect with you.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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