I told the shopkeeper, “Bhaiyya, no need to wrap it”. He replied, “Do you have a bag?” I gestured a ‘No’. He obviously wanted to put the ‘thing’ in my bag. Even without a glance in my direction or sparing a thought, he wrapped it in a newspaper and then put it in the black polythene. Black just like a curse! The curse of taboo which spreads like a contagious disease from one generation to another to the next. Did you have to guess what the atom bomb I was buying? In India sanitary napkin for menstruating woman has always had that stature. Even the commercial ads would take a tongue in cheek approach to it, terming periods as ‘those days’ or ‘those five days of the month’.
From a dear school friend to aunts and sister-in-laws, we have grown up seeing ladies communicating about periods in a hushed voice. Keeping the ‘dirty’ word away from the ears of men. After all, it is a thing of shame, no matter how much the heart rebels as to why! When in school one of the classmates were sent back home when her periods started. The teachers called a rickshaw for her so that she can sit on the stain, hiding her so-called ‘shame’. Ours was a girls’ school yet there were no emergency sanitary napkins to be handed out. Irony doesn’t end here rather begins. In most parts of our country, the first menstruation is celebrated in a grandiose manner. Men are allowed to take part in the revelry too. This is because the girl of the family is marked as capable of reproduction by nature. She can be married off, and her forefathers won’t rot in hell. From the next month, the reason of celebration turns into the cause of mortification. Voila! Then and now, has the scenario changed? Let’s have a look at the period myths that have and still keep plaguing the lives of women.
Myth 1: The Impure should be Isolated
The history of our world knows that the easiest way of subjugation and oppression is making one feel bad about their own self. ‘Shaming’ has a deep-rooted history and period shaming is almost as old as antiquity. Women are considered to be impure during their periods. In many parts of India, especially in rural areas, women are isolated during menstruation. There are thatch huts called Gaokar outside several villages where women are banished to live for the five menstruating days. These Gaokars do not have kitchens. The women have to depend on their family members for sending food.
In some parts of India, the first time a pre-teen or teen gets her periods she is not offered any cooked food except boiled milk and fruits. Who can tell? Maybe it is a way of stopping her from going out of her confine to answer the nature’s call. In many families, separate utensils are kept to give food to women in periods. Family members do not even hand over a glass of water in fear that her impure touch will pollute them. All these taboos have stemmed not just from superstitious inhibitions but also improper sanitation facility. In the absence of sanitary napkins, women have to use old clothes and rags to stop period blood from spilling. They cannot move much in fear of staining clothes. Sadly, instead of finding better sanitation methods, people have been subjecting women to gross discrimination for eternity.
Myth 2: Bloody is Banned from Holy Places and Holy Rites
Pilots, scientists, doctors, actors and writers, women have reached the highest peaks of every profession. Yet, the number of female priests or priestess is severely low in India. From buying our own cars, houses and solitaires to living the lives of bohemians and philanthropists, we have done it all. From Karakoram to Mount Everest we have climbed it all. However, the period taboo is something insurmountable we are yet to overcome. One of the reasons for banning women from heading religious functions and performing religious rites is that they menstruate. If you bleed then you are dirty and anything dirty is not allowed to sacred places, period. And, that’s how patriarchy has silenced the feminine voice in the forum of religion for ages. Till date menstruating women are banned from entering temples and shrines. Some of them even boastfully put up boards asking women in their periods to stay away. Why just holy places? She is unwanted at ceremonies, festivals and celebrations like birthday parties and wedding receptions as well. This myth has been too well-ingrained in the feminine minds. So much so that women themselves are afraid to enter shrines, temples and stay away from family functions, thinking they will desecrate the purity of those places and events. Another prevalent phenomenon is not allowing women to take part in any manner in pujas and homas while they are on periods. Many pop drugstore bought pills of little credibility in the hope of delaying periods so they too can enjoy religious festivals. Myths like these can be eradicated only through the spread of awareness. It is time to chant and scream and shout that period is not dirty. It is as natural as conceiving a child. It is as essential as nutrition. Maybe in a future, a distant one, we will not have to give our health up by preventing periods, in order to be a part of the sacred rituals.
[Image Credits – oowomaniya.com]
Myth 3: Dirty Hair Don’t Care, After All you have Periods!
Come summer or winter, there was a time when women did not bathe during menstruation. To my upmost surprise, bathing and washing hair, at least for the first two days of periods, is still a taboo. The heritage of uncombed hair throughout periods is older than the time of Draupadi! A huge number of both rural and urban women have been following this norm since puberty. The length of time passed since and the scolding from elders have silenced many into unquestioned complacency. The side effect of this myth is that women who follow it feel too unclean to attend functions, parties and get-togethers while menstruating. A sense of unease overburdens them. On the third day of period, however, all clothes including bed sheets are washed too get rid of the faintest sign of the ‘inauspicious’ periods. An acute lack of enclosed bathing spaces and privacy may have bred this misconception. However, there is no need to carry its burden. Rather staying clean during periods reduces chances of contracting infections and other diseases.
Myth 4: Dirt Stops Dirt
Inaccessibility of sanitary napkins and ignorance of their necessity make countless Indian women resort to other highly unhygienic means of stemming period blood. Approximate 12% Indian women have access to sanitary napkins. For a major number of ladies reusing old clothes by washing them is the only available option. Women from the lower strata, with minimum buying power, cannot even afford rags. Those working in fields, mines and construction sites use leaves, sawdust and ash, unwittingly injuring their health beyond repair. Girls even drop out from school when they start menstruating for this reason. Low cost sanitary napkins and awareness are the keys of combating this myth. We can take initiative too. Talking to household helps and workers, educating them about the importance of hygienic methods of sanitation during periods might help.
[Image credits – cnn.com]
Myths 5, 6, 7, 8, 9….The Many No-Nos of Periods
Don’t eat pickles. You will fall ill. Don’t touch pickle. It will get spoilt. Don’t cook. The food will rot. Don’t sleep on your husband’s bed. Don’t water the plants. (Reason: You are evil, you will make your hubby and plants and all living things around you die with your ominous presence). Menstruation in India enables women experience the life of untouchables, sharing their plight. Needless to say most of these myths have no scientific or logical base. Breaking them rests solely in our hands. Take a hammer and go POW, boom, bam, wham, crash on period myths like this.
Period Blues? (Ooops Blacks!!!) We Got a Padman
One man has already taken up the cause. He has fought our battle for us. He is Arunachalam Muruganantham. The Padma Shri award winning social entrepreneur has built a machine for making low cost sanitary napkins easily available. Watch his journey through struggle and strife of becoming the Menstrual Man of India in the movie Padman, hitting theaters on 9th February. Truly, in India we do not need Superman or Batman or Spiderman, as the Padman is our champion against shame and black polythene.
[Image Credits – uraavi.com]