(I sincerely apologize if this post offends anyone’s sentiments or traditional beliefs. These are my personal thoughts based on what I have experienced and faced.)

A UNICEF study showed that one in three girls in South Asia had no knowledge of menstruation before their first period, and 48% of girls in Iran thought that menstruation was a disease. Often considered a shameful, dirty female weakness, the secrecy surrounding menstruation has permeated every aspect of society, nurturing superstitions and taboos that are passed on between generations. In many communities, menstruating girls and women are still banned from kitchens, crop fields, or places of worship.

I used to look forward to Kanjak pooja during Navratri for all the possible reason of enjoying delicious bhog and gifts with some money. But when I got my periods, no one called me that year. I felt surprised that am I not a Devi anymore who can be worshiped? Children think like that sometimes because they do not know the traditions. Because suddenly I was declared a woman instead of a Kanya.

Then I went to my hometown and my grand mother didn’t allow me to touch the jar of home-made pickles when I was menstruating lest my touch should the whole lot. My little mind could not accept this illogical justification. Then I was made to sleep on another bed, I tried to revolt but my mom stopped me saying respect elders (luckily, my mom never made me feel untouchable during my monthly periods. She treated me so well).

Since childhood, I have faced so much discrimination just because of menstruation and especially by woman. Maybe that’s one of the many reasons I hate periods till date.

Few years ago, I made a friend who was not even allowed to enter her kitchen for three days of the periods, as it might bring negative energy inside.

(A logic given by her mother-in-law)

Then I got married to an Oriya man, and I saw an absolutely different world. They have a festival called Raja celebration, where they celebrate mother earth’s menstruation process.

The word ‘Raja’ (pronounced as ‘raw-jaw’) is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Rajaswala’ meaning a menstruating woman. The festival is essentially the celebration of the earth’s womanhood, because the three days of Raja are the days it is considered that the mother earth or ‘Basumati’ or ‘Bhudevi’ is menstruating. The fourth day is called ‘Basumati Snana’ or the day of the ‘purification bath’.

As a mark of respect towards the earth during her menstruation days, all agricultural work, like ploughing, sowing, is suspended for the three days. The idea is that the earth should not be hurt. As it is a celebration of womanhood, a lot of the focus is on young women, who wear new clothes, apply ‘alta’ on their feet and enjoy folk songs while swinging on decorated rope swings.

This was a cultural shock for me. For almost 21 years I was treated as some achoot kanya and here in my in-laws house I was made to eat and celebrate.

After so many years, I have realised that maybe the intention of my grandmother or all those people who made me feel bad during my periods, was not based on logic as they themselves never tried to find out why certain traditions are being followed. They blindly followed and made sure that it is imposed in a similar way by the other female members of the family.

I am not a devi bhakta, but during kanjak, I distribute some gifts and money and make sure that I even give to a girl who is now boycotted from  such invites because she has recently got her periods.

The whole point behind writing this post is to point out that people in our society need to change their outlook towards such an important process or the privilege of being born as a woman.

We all talk about what a menstruating women should do and not do when it comes to their social conduct, but no one focuses on advising them to maintain their sanity during those days that includes maintaining hygiene, taking care of nutrition, managing mood swings, dealing with pain and cramps and other effects of hormonal changes.

I have seen men and women in the family moral policing the girl who just got her periods. Please understand she herself is worried and it is her first-time experience. So instead of preaching her scriptures and lecturing her on to not mingle with men and take precaution as she might get pregnant, we need to let her understand it is a normal process which makes her more responsible and she should take care of her physical-mental-reproductive health, as hormonal changes do take a toll.

I especially feel for women in rural areas where they don’t even have enough resources for buying pads or managing hygiene. I feel our MPs and MLAs should provide free access to napkins or subsidised napkins or should ensure sanitary napkin vending machine in their constituencies.

Also we need to educate women to be free to ask for help or pads when in need as I have seen girls feeling embarrassed asking for it.

I had once gone to a shop (in Sundar Nagar, considered as one of the posh areas in Delhi) to buy pads. That man looked at me surprisingly that I didn’t ask him secretly, and he started to wrap it in so many black layers, I told him to just leave it and give it to me like that. Because we have been conditioned that it is something girls should not discuss openly. His shock was so evident, along with other male, customers at the counter.

Because our people have made menstruation a social stigma, we do not even realise that it affects the psychologically of that girl. It might make her feel inferior or less capable. In fact, in military services too, we see sometimes a discrimination on this basis, many women were initially denied combat duty. A woman may be menstruating in a month for 3 to 5 days but what about other 25 days? You can’t underestimate their combat capabilities on the basis of those few days only.

Also why when a woman  starts menstruating suddenly she has to carry the burden of ‘humare khandaan ki izzat ab tumhare haathon me hai ‘, because protection of virginity is linked to menstruation? I pity sometime, such pathetic thinking and conditioning of people.

I don’t want any adolescent girl around me to face a miserable cycle of pain, discomfort, shame, anxiety, and isolation during their menstrual period. Menstruation is a normal and regular event in every healthy adolescent girl’s life.

Enormous advances have been made in global child and adolescent health, maternal health, and women’s rights. Yet the need of millions of women and girls menstruating on any given day remain buried low on the global health agenda, simply because many are too embarrassed for frank discussions about menstruation.

It is high time, menstruation must be normalised and celebrated, the way people do in Odisha.

Image by Irina Ilina from Pixabay

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Shalini Pandey

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