By Sakshi Sharma
“When you people don’t love girls, why do you pretend to worship them?” – Mrinal Pande asks in her story ‘Girls’. I remember reading ‘Girls’ while I was an adolescent who got her first periods. The way I was treated made me feel that I had a communicable disease. My menstruation days made me see the hypocrisy of elders. On the one hand I was being worshipped as an incarnation of Devi during the Navratri and on the other hand during my menstruation period I was refused even the title of a human being. A thirteen year old girl was being treated as an untouchable and my mind couldn’t comprehend the possible reasons for it. I do not remember asking patriarchy to treat me as a goddess, I only asked the status of a human being. Does menstrual blood makes a Devi untouchable? Is the Devi devoid of blood?
I was trying to understand the changes happening in my body and I was made to feel that I was emitting a deadly virus. Imagine waking up one day with your pants soaked in blood as you get your first periods. However you are barely given any information as to why it is happening and instead you are welcomed with taboos that perpetuate untouchability. The word ‘untouchability’ does not even define what they practiced upon me while my menstruation cycle was going on. I was not allowed to enter the kitchen. I could not touch anything that was meant for common use such as a serving dish or an earthen pot. If I accidently touched such a thing then they made sure it was washed before anyone else touches it. I was being served food in the same way a jailor serves food to a jail inmate. I had to stand near boundary of the kitchen to collect my food plate kept on the ground. While giving any additional serving of food they made sure that the serving spoon does not touch the plate in which I was eating. They dropped the roti in my plate like you treat a dangerous dog who might bite your hand when you try to feed them.
What annoys me more is that they are not even consistent with their practices. They made me wash my hair on third day of my periods and then I was allowed to enter into the kitchen. I could not decipher the rationale behind making such a differentiation as I was still bleeding. How are the third day and the first day of my periods any different when I am bleeding on both of these days?
My legal training now tells me that this practice does not meet the criteria of ‘intelligible differentia’ under Article 14 but alas it is not the State but your own people who practice this discrimination.
I also could never fathom the reason behind the saying that a jar containing pickle could rot, if I touched it during my menstrual cycle. It seemed like my non-existent period viruses could even travel through that glass jar. I could not water the plants or even touch them which made me feel like my hands were some hypertonic solution that would cause osmosis and are capable of killing a plant. I made sure that I did not go to any outings or to a relative’s place while I was on my periods not because of the pain I was undergoing but because of the treatment meted out to me. I was made to sit at corner of the hall like an unwelcomed guest and if anyone oblivious of the fact that I am menstruating, came near to me they were immediately told to get away from me because apparently my touch could make people sick.
I have a vivid memory of one incident that happened years ago which made me hate myself for being born as a girl. I was travelling to Maharashtra with my family and we were going to visit a temple. My maternal aunt got her periods on that day suddenly. When we reached the temple, everyone was sprinkling water upon themselves. I could not understand the reasons behind doing so and thus I ended up asking my mother for the reason behind it. Then she instructed me to sprinkle water upon my body and said that we have become impure because we came in contact with my maternal aunt. My maternal aunt was made to sit in the car where she watched everyone purifying themselves with water. Only if water with its high dielectric constant could purify their minds for practicing exclusion and making a woman feel like she has committed a crime because she is going through a natural process of reproductive cycle. Thus making a woman hate herself for being born a woman.
I know that many of you must have been made subject to these taboos while undergoing their menstruation. To stop this exclusion of women from socio-cultural life it is pertinent that we have a discussion with our elders to inform them that these taboos related to menstruation are myths. These cultural myths are perpetuated by women because of shying away from discussion and will continue if we do not educate them of biological facts. Schools also play an important part in educating students about these issues at the ground level. I initiated these conversations with my family and they have since then started to understand the baselessness of these myths. My aim is to highlight the story of a young girl being subjected to the status of an untouchable because of cultural myths surrounding menstruation. I am not asking you to elevate the status of women to that of a goddess, what I am asking is shunning away the hypocrisy and giving them the status of a human being by stopping their exclusion. I would like to reiterate and request you to ask yourself – Is your Devi devoid of blood?