Written by : Harshita Singh and Amita Siri Kalapu Edited by: Preksha Joshi and Anwesha Simlai
Society in India has been confining women within their quarters since the Vedic Ages, particularly during menstruation, as it was thought that their touch was impure and poisoned artifacts around them. Throughout the generations, women followed the doctrines, conformed and hid behind their chambers during their time of the month until the colonisation of India, which brought about radical change in our country.
Parents seldom plan for anything they know is going to happen to their daughters. And this unpreparedness leads to much avoidable fear and anxiety in India. A fertile woman is considered to be an entity who will foster a family lineage, but at the same time, her fertility is taboo.
Menstruation is considered impure and unclean. The myths and taboos around periods affect a woman’s social, cultural and religious aspects of life. Young girls and women on periods are not allowed to enter temples, kitchens or touch fellow family members or colleagues, are made to eat and sit separately and wash their own dishes. During periods women are often excluded from day-to-day life and activities and confined to a room without physical contact while in rural areas due to lack of feminine hygiene products women are forced to use coarse or discarded cloth and fabric, old rags which may lead to health problems or complication. Some unscientific traditions disallow menstruating women from bathing as they claim that it could lead to problems for the body’s internal organs. In some parts of the country certain dietary restrictions are placed on women who are on periods as to what to eat and what not to eat.
In India goddesses have been worshipped in different forms for centuries yet in the 21st century Indian women still encounter several myths and problems due to menstruation.
Some examples and facts of various states in India and how they nurture the taboos:
In 2020, in an educational institute located in Gujarat known as Shree Sahajanand Girls Institute (SSGI) 68 students living in the hostel were taken to washroom and made to strip and were inspected. The students had to show their underwear to female staff to prove that they were not on their period.
As per a survey conducted in Gujarat, “one third of the teenage girls were not informed about menarche before its onset and approximately 50% of the girls felt they were not mentally prepared for the same”. (Tiwari, Oza, & Tiwari, 2006). Now when we talk about the women living in Kashmir Valley, it’s a herculean task to get any kind of facilities, thus how can one expect that there are things in place for females which are needed during periods! Amid curfews and shutdowns and on other occasions when snow, landslides, and avalanches throw life out of gear, our females, teens and adults, don’t have access to basic items like sanitary napkins. They have no choice but to miss classes because schools do not have any sanitation facilities.
The above mentioned examples demonstrate how there exists a taboo surrounding conversations on menstruation. People should realize by now that these taboos do nothing but hamper and degrade women’s dignity in society and that needs to change now. It is time to break from the shackles of period taboos and rise.
Reference: Tiwari, H., Oza, U., & Tiwari, R. (2006). Knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about menarche of adolescent girls in Anand district, Gujarat. Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal, Vol. 12, Nos 3/4 , 428-433.