Shireen28 Feb 2019
Menstruation is stigmatized as a subject matter in India and this stigma comfortably slips into literal life and creeps up on us as the suggested norm. test
Lies we live: as Menstruating Indian women
Colleagues, friends, boyfriends, brothers, fathers and all too frequently, women in any public setting; all of their discomfort upon hearing about periods is something they won’t even try to veil, unlike me writhing in attempting to express my period pain.
Menstruation is stigmatized as a subject matter in India and this stigma comfortably slips into literal life and creeps up on us as the suggested norm. Despite their apparent keenness to grow and be inclusive, I’m often left disappointed when I notice people around me skirting around periods.
This stigma, when broken down, offers immense content as context to how the Indian society looks today. Ours is a country where even today, women in certain rural societies are quarantined to “go have their period” away from anything normal that they might taint while in that ‘unholy’ condition. They are banished to small, unkempt huts called Gaokors.
In many homes, urban and rural alike, women aren’t supposed to set foot in the kitchen while menstruating, because kitchens are a ‘clean’ space; the very opposite of what a menstruating woman is perceived as. Culturally, majority households in India are run by the women: grandmothers, mothers, aunts, daughters, granddaughters – the ones that manage the chores while their husbands, sons, uncles, brothers and grandsons are at work. How does this stigma allow a functional dynamic? Nobody knows.
Women are also meant to refrain from praying while on their period. They are to keep away from the ‘Puja room’ in the house and from temples in general.
Certain rural cultures have women bury the cloth they used for the duration of their period, because they consider the menstrual blood as something evil or something that can be used against the menstruating woman via black magic. Other households even go so far as to control diets, ensuring menstruating women doesn’t consume sour foods like yogurt, pickles and tamarind – as these may disrupt or altogether stop their menstrual flow.
In rural households, oftentimes women are also meant to abstain from bathing for at least the first few days of their period because water is a form of pristine life flow and should be kept at bay from something as ‘impure’ as a woman on her period.
Within muslim homes of India, women are not only not permitted to pray but also expected to refrain from so much as touching the holy book, prayer rug and even rosary beads during that time of the month, because they are considered to be unclean then.
These myths become real within the continuum of practice. Truly, I grew up feeling like I was doing something wrong every time I happened to touch the holy book or prayer rug while on my period. Even if I was 4 whole days into my period, even it was just to hand them to my grandmother, which of course would never be allowed if she knew I was on my period in the first place. Beliefs in practice become so tangible, I consciously avoided all things holy during the first 3 days of my period for the longest time.
The root cause for the existence of all these comfortably adopted myths as culture, is the embarrassment and shame associated with acknowledging reproduction: the obvious result of sexual activity.
With time, of-course, I eased up on myself a bit and gradually these thoughts in my mind eased up a bit too. I still don’t pray while I’m on my period – mainly because I don’t pray but I’ll never for even a moment let myself sit in any thought that says, “Watch out, you’re dirty right now. Don’t touch pure, holy things, you’ll get your period cooties all over everything.”
Some things change to grow – it is that time of the life for all Indian minds.